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Sea Gophers and Bashful Bass

Several readers noticed that we did not publish a journal for nearly two months. Some complained; some did not.

Our friend Tom, who’s sailing the southern latitudes in a small boat, sent an e-mail from Ecuador, or Easter Island, or somewhere; we never know with Tom.

“It occurred to me that you may have gone straight in your old age,” he wrote. “I know it is becoming more and more difficult for me to lie, the older I get.”

Same here. Late in August,I thought I might never lie again. I was tired of fending off pretenders, and advocates of the various Indian gaming propositions on the ballot.

What really kept us from producing, though, was several rewarding trips that Miss Ellie and I took in September and October.

We did our part to keep Amtrak alive. We investigated Indian gaming, with some success.

When we ran into the infestation of sea gophers in California’s beautiful Cumbaya Bay, we knew we had to help.

The destructive little critters came to U.S. waters by swimming (tunneling, actually) all the way from the Paul Harvey Islands in the South Pacific.

There’s an obvious parallel between the sea gopher and the extinct Arizona sand trout. The sand trout used to swim through the sand in Arizona’s dry rivers, much as a regular fish swims in water. The sea gopher tunnels through water the same way a land gopher tunnels through your new yard.

The gophers leave tunnels of air under the sea, and these play havoc with both sport fishing and commercial fishing. The little tunnels running every which way tangle fishermen’s nets, and confuse the fish.

Small fish get into the tunnels. Then, as seawater rushes in to collapse the tunnels, it compresses the air in front of it, much like an air compressor pushing air through a hose.

The small fish are propelled from the water at terrific speed, and go hurtling through the air in phenomenal numbers.

The shower of aerobatic fish traumatizes pelicans, gulls and seals, who are creatures of habit. They have their accustomed ways of catching fish.

At Cumbaya Bay, seals and sea lions were barking angrily, and the birds were sullen. The incidence of psychosis in the marine and bird life reached critical proportions.

Fishermen in the tiny port of San Crisco, already hammered by regulations and a lousy economy, were in despair. Fate must have brought us to Cumbaya Bay at just the right time.

As you know, The Wickenburg Institute For Factual Diversity is a pioneer in the study of aberrant marine life. For openers, we have documented the story of the extinct Arizona sand trout in our new book, Arizona Liar’s Journal.

(This is NOT another blatant commercial plug for the book; this is science.)

It used to be possible to fish for sand trout, using water for bait. Unfortunately, the Arizona sand trout became extinct in 1947, when a flash flood in the Hassayampa River drowned the last school.

On the book’s cover, artist Jim Willoughby captured a historic moment: a trout jumping out of the sand beside a startled prospector, who is holding a gold pan.

My long-time friend Joanne lives in Oregon. She thought the gold pan was a skillet, and that we were very clever to have fish that jumped right into the frying pan. Joanne, how did you figure out our secret project?

That’s right. Working with biologists at the University of Maryland’s Wickenburg branch, the WIFD is developing fish that clean themselves, wallow in cornmeal, and jump right into the pan. The people from Mrs. Paul’s are very interested.

As spinoff from that research, we isolated the chemical in fish which causes fishermen to lie.

But as with most scientific breakthroughs, this raises an ethical question: Is it unfair competition for me to rob other liars of their capabilities? We’ve turned that problem over to bioethicists at Tulane University’s Hassyampa River campus.

Just recently, we helped rid Lake Pleasant of what game biologists were calling “un-Pleasant bass.” For whatever motives, someone had introduced bass from another state, or possibly Canada, into the lake east of Wickenburg.

The fish swam backwards, giving new meaning to the term “bassackwards.” Swimming backwards made it very difficult for the bass to eat or take bait. Fishermen were not catching them, and the hungry fish were becoming positively cadaverous.

We sent divers down to turn the fish around, hoping they’d get the idea. That’s when we discovered that the fish were bashful. Beset by a lack of self-worth, they couldn’t stand to face other fish.

The WIFD sent down mirrors, hanging from long wires, hoping the fish would become more comfortable with themselves, and with others.

Alas, that scheme backfired. The bass were so upset to see themselves swimming away backwards that they stopped spawning.

Sad, but nature is tough. We did rid Lake Pleasant of a lot of gaunt fish.

Now, about sea gophers: Miss Ellie and I studied the problem from the tables at several seaside restaurants around Cumbaya Bay.

We actually saw only one sea gopher. We were dining at a restaurant on the wharf at Point Canola. An arrangement of mirrors allowed us to look down through our glass table top into Cumbaya Bay. Man, that sea gopher was ugly!

But the solution came to me while we were eating at a Belgian restaurant near the pier at Velcro Beach. Last Year, the WIFD and UM-Wickenburg developed gas-free pinto beans. During that project, we discovered that rodents can’t stand the aroma of cooking Brussels sprouts. We don’t know why, but the smell drives them crazy.

We suggested to commercial fishermen that they boil Brussels sprouts and pump the fumes into the gopher tunnels.

It was touchy at first. Finding the mouth of an underwater gopher tunnel with an air hose is like finding a vein in a fat man’s arm.

But divers finally got the hang of it, and started piping the aroma into the tunnels. There have been no sea gophers spotted in Cumbaya Bay since October 11.

And Dr. Phil thinks he’s hot stuff…

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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