Mullet are famous for being excellent jumpers. In fact, Florida Fish and Wildlife states “it’s often easy to identify their locations by simply watching for jumping fish.” Me? When I see a mullet jump, I have a tendency to personify thinking, “now there’s a happy fish!”
This beautiful jumping mullet-sunset photo was taken by my brother, Todd Thurlow, this past Saturday evening, October 10th, 2015 just off of North River Shores.
Former Stuart News editor and river advocate Ernest Lyons wrote about mullet jumping in his essay ” Never a River Like the St Lucie Back Then.”
There was never a river to compare to Florida’s St Lucie I when I was young….the river fed us. You could get all the big fat mullet you wanted with a castnet or a spear. If you were real lazy, you could leave a lantern burning in a tethered rowboat overnight and a half-dozen mullet would jump in, ready to be picked off the boat bottom next morning….at the headwaters of the south fork of the St Lucie….the waters were clear as crystal… (Ernest Lyons 1915-1990)
Today, the water of St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon are anything but clear, but “hail to the mullet that are still jumping!”
I have been told, that this Yiddish expression, used usually during a toast, means “to life!” I can’t say that I really understand the full essence of the word, as I am not Jewish, but I like the saying very much, and find myself exclaiming it all the time.
After all, life is good, isn’t it?
The story I am going to write about today, is one I have been wanting to write about for a very long time….it is the story of my struggle with the ethics of keeping marine mammals in captivity.
Off the bat, I must say I am “not for such”…and the movie “Blackfish” was horrifying, but due to one very personal experience I have had, for me, there are exceptions….
First, I must go back…
In 2008, my husband Ed and I had only been married three years. After talking to friends who had had a good time at Sea World, we decided to visit Discovery Cove in Orlando. We were the typical clueless “tourists” and we looked forward to “swimming with the dolphins.” At the time, I did struggle a bit with the idea of marine mammals in captivity, but it was years before I became so wrapped up in the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon movement all all that comes with it, and honestly, at the time, I did not give it enough thought. I was just happy that I finally had a husband….
Once at Discovery Cove, Ed and I dressed in wet suits, and along with about twelve others, including young children, were introduced to our dolphin; she was just beautiful; her name was “Natasha.” She seemed happy and did what her trainers asked her to do. She kissed each one of us, “talked” to us, and took us for a short “ride.” The time was short, but indeed, we all felt as though we had bonded with her…
About half way through the show, Natasha was told to jump simultaneously with another dolphin. She jumped high and her body arched over the pool. Then I heard the slam of two bodies hitting hard and knew something had gone very wrong…Natasha and another dolphin had collided!
Natasha died there in the water as the Discovery Cove crew scrambled to get children and adults out of the pool. There was no explanation. They were trying to keep things in order. We went home. I was numb, and felt a sense of guilt and of anger…..
The next day, I pulled my “elected official card,” calling Sea World to get information; I got nothing. I was furious. I swore to myself that “never again” would I attend such a show, and “never again” would I support Sea World’s “Discovery Cove.”
Fast forward four years…
I had matured as an elected official and wife; I had become very involved in the river movement through the River Kidz of the Town of Sewall’s Point; and, I had become a volunteer in the marine mammal department with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.
Then came September 1st, 2012.
On September 1st, a call came in to all volunteers. 22 short finned pilot whales had stranded at Avalon Beach, in Ft Pierce, just across from the east side of the Indian River Lagoon. It was a weekend. Ed and and I sped up there meeting throngs of people from the public that had gathered. The state agencies of NOAA, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and FAU/Harbor Branch all came, but it was the public that was there first,and it was the public that shone that day— carrying bucket after bucket of water to cool the ailing whales’ skin, and covering them with towels to abate the hot, hot sun…
It was a scene I will never forget, as the huge mammals lost their lives to the elements in great writhing agony, with the public watching on in a dreadful sadness…many of the whales expired naturally while others had to euthanized —-these whales, once beached do not return to sea, beaching again, and again, and again, if they are returned….
The social bonds of pilot whales are one of the strongest in nature, and they stay together at all costs, even if it costs them their lives…strandings are thought to be caused by sickness or disorientation, but no one really knows. Families die together, never apart.
The most touching of all was that there were five calves that day. Four were juveniles and one was probably only a few days old. Their parents did not live and the whales had not the skills to be released…
After great thought, NOAA (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/) made the decision to place the four calfs in the Harbor Branch ambulance and take them to the institution’s facility. The small whales were carefully nursed and cared for day and night, one died but the rest made it. They were later officially deemed “unreleasable,” by NOAA and then transported to Sea World— the only facility fitted to care for the animals.
I have to admit I was happy for them when the took them away to Sea World. I was happy that they didn’t die. I was happy that they had each other no matter how horrible the past few days had been. I was happy that human beings have a heart and that I had witnessed it on the beach that day with strangers that suddenly were working together for a common cause…..
I did think about Natasha that died at Discovery Cove—but…..
Fast forward to 2015….
I receive a phone call. “The pilot whales are performing at Sea World. ” I am sent pictures. Their names are the same are as they were when named by the public that day…. I am happy for them. I am proud of them. I am a hypocrite. I can’t help myself. I choose life—I do. With all its complications, with all its imperfections….
Christin Erazo is the producer for TC Palm’s “Indian River Lagoon” segment, and although other reporters have done a good job reporting about our friends in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, Christin has really excelled with her past year’s dolphin series, teaching us about their families, their struggles in the polluted lagoon, and even their names! (https://twitter.com/TCPalmChristin)
In the past, I have written about black bobcats, and black wolves of the Indian River Lagoon, so it makes sense that today I focus on the recent white (albino) dolphin sighting in the lagoon that Christen brought to my attention through her IRL Dolphin series.
A couple of days ago, Florida Fish and Wildlife posted this video of what really looks like an albino dolphin swimming around, just off shore, in what appears to be the central lagoon area. Of course, FFW will not report where the sighting actually was so people do not overwhelm or accidentally harass the animal. Some say, like my favorite research institute, FAU/Harbor Branch, that it is “unlikely” that the video is really showing an albino dolphin…
I, as the child of the 60s, prefer “to believe.” 🙂
And of course, I am not a scientist!
When I was a kid growing up in Stuart, some of the most fun was had dreaming and talking about the Lock Ness Monster and Sasquatch. But all joking aside, why wouldn’t there be a white dolphin? The wonders of this world are many….
According to popular blogger, Jane Kingswell of the United Kingdom, (https://animalnewsuk.wordpress.com/about-2/), “Animal News,” there is 1/10,000 chance that any animal, including humans, can be albino. Being albino in the animal kingdom is difficult as one “stands out,” and is not camouflaged against predators. Usually albino animals have shorter life spans for this reason and as well as being more prone to health issues.
But aren’t they magnificent!
To me, even the possibility that there is an albino dolphin, is a miracle, just like everything else in this world. And as we all know, when we look at the miracle of our life every day, we often don’t “see it.”
The chance that an albino dolphin lives in our wonder filled Indian River Lagoon is just a reminder for us to “open our eyes” and see it all, the miracle, the gift, of our Indian River Lagoon.
Does the above photo make your stomach turn? What is it?
It is a HAB or Harmful Algae Bloom, taken four days ago, right here in Martin County.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “over the past century, alterations of land use and acceleration in the rate of cultural eutrophication have led to widespread increases in harmful algal blooms in Florida, including toxin-producing species.”
First, what is “eutrophication” and why is it “cultural”?
Eutrophication is is when a body of water becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients (such as synthetic phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer) that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen and a “bloom.” These algae blooms can be toxic.
“Cultural means “created by humans.”
So what are we doing about this especially since “we” caused it?
In my opinion, as usual, our state governors and legislatures did not pay significant attention to these studies, and failed to implement policies that would help overcome this crisis issue. How many of them even read the report?
Case in point, recently, it was the local governments and local residents of the towns, cities and counties along the west and east coasts of Florida who advocated and achieved strong fertilizer ordinances not allowing fertilizer use during the rainy season while the state continues to fight and support less restrictive rules.
1. Time-Series Sampling in Pinellas and Manatee Counties) Researchers conduct detailed sampling to better understand when, where and under what conditions harmful algal blooms form.
2. Tampa Bay Monitoring ProgramResearchers monitor 10 sites in Old Tampa Bay for the presence of, or conditions favorable to, harmful algal blooms.
3. Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Program
Encouraging people to learn about the program and learn how to become volunteers, collecting water samples around the state to help scientists monitor the Florida red tide.
4. Monitoring Toxic Algae Species and Shellfish in the Indian River Lagoon (2002-present)
Periodic testing of water samples and clams provides an early warning of bloom occurrences and shellfish toxicity and minimizes the risk of human exposure to saxitoxins.
Those are great present HAB programs, so why don’t we hear more about them and why don’t they include Lake Okeechobee, obviously the toxic algae is there as well…
Here at home, when the gates of S-308 open from Lake Okeechobee to the C-44 canal that is connected to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, the algae in the photo above goes directly into the our river system.
It is 2014. The state has been studying this problem since 1997. They do not have all the answers but we do know by now that HABs are fed by cultural eutrophication due to clearing of land that can no longer clean water on its way to estuaries, rivers and lakes; building of towns and cities that create concrete and asphalt barriers to water reabsorption; fertilizer and other runoff; oil/chemicals from thousands of miles of highway and roads; septic effluent; canals and redirection of water such as Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee; agriculture’s heavy destruction of native lands and the fertilizer and chemical runoff associated with their business, unregulated golf courses fertilizer run off and re-use of high nutrient water resources….it’s endless.
It is said that “ignorance is bliss,” well the state of Florida doesn’t have that luxury anymore.