By Pamela Walker
I didn’t believe him when he said the fish could sing. I didn’t believe him when he said, in fact, that they could sing so loudly I should be able to hear them on land. That maybe I had heard them, but had mistaken their song for a generator, or some kind of weird engine.
I didn’t believe him when he said the fish had marks that were actually lights, and that these lights were so bright they could be seen at depths below 400 meters, which is where the fish live most of the time. Except when they mate in the intertidal zone.
Now, I’m no scientist, but I’m thinking to myself that if these fish live at 400 meters, how and why do they mate at sea level? Don’t the G-forces, or whatever they’re called, make that impossible?
I once did a decompression dive to 40 feet (just over 12 meters), and I just about popped both of my eardrums. And why had they chosen to mate in the water outside my house in Ladysmith Harbour?
He said it was all true. They were building a nest and singing for a mate, and their lights were off now but you could see where the bulbs would be if it were dark.
He said this fish could live hours at a time out of water, like when the tide changed, and they could survive with no food for months at a time, which they did when they were protecting their eggs, and it was the males, not the females, that looked after the babies after the male had built a nest and sung for a lover and she’d laid her eggs and gone back to sea.
And sometimes, for no reason that anyone could understand, the males ate a couple of the hatched babies, even though they could survive perfectly well for over four months without eating anything.
The “he” in this story was a budding scientist named Aneesh Bose. He was working on his PhD from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and he knocked on my door to ask whether he could have access to the shoreline from our property in order to study the fish.
The “fish” are the Plainfin Midshipman or Porichthys notatus, if you’re well-acquainted with your Latin. They are a deep-sea species of toadfish that breeds in the intertidal zones of the Pacific coast of North America. And they are the weirdest fish I’ve ever seen, watched or stroked.
You will also learn other things. For instance, there’s the dads, and there’s the sneaker dads who just fertilize the eggs of the real dad and then swim away without having to do all the work of child-rearing.
You can also hear clips of the Plainfin Midshipmen not only singing but grunting and yelling.
Aneesh didn’t knock on my door this year, and I hope he’s well and that he’s continuing his research because I believe—and I think you’ll agree—that he had a very fishy tale, that I almost didn’t believe.