Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas

Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas

5.0 2
by Carl Safina, John Macrae
To understand connections between habitat protection and our long-term survival, a world-class scientist and fisherman probes for truth in this world tour of marine resources. As with the moon's effect on the tides, the author shows that commerce exerts a tremendous downward pull on the world's oceans--but the marine world can be replenished. The choice is ours. 4


To understand connections between habitat protection and our long-term survival, a world-class scientist and fisherman probes for truth in this world tour of marine resources. As with the moon's effect on the tides, the author shows that commerce exerts a tremendous downward pull on the world's oceans--but the marine world can be replenished. The choice is ours. 4 maps.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Close your eyes. Think fish. Do you envision half a ton of laminated muscle rocketing through the sea as fast as you drive your automobile?" From tales of watching giant bluefin tuna off the Gulf of Maine to diving into "a china shop of corals" off Palau, nearly every sentence in Safina's state-of-the-oceans report is informed by his deep sense of these waters' beautyand fragility. But research ecologist Safina, who founded the Living Oceans Program of the National Audubon Society, is no knee-jerk gainsayer of the people and practices responsible for the environmental devastation he tracks here. His "encounters" include some with fishermen and workers for corporations, whose needs he makes an effort to understandthough the corporations themselves don't fare so well in his assessment, and seemingly with good cause. Exploring the links between clear-cutting in places like Oregon and the Philippines and declining ocean wildlife populations, Safina makes the familiar case for the interrelatedness of various ecosystems seem fresh, writing as a sympathetic correspondent from the front lines. He knows much about a wide variety of species and their habits (including those of politicians and policy-makers), and what he doesn't know, we discover along with him. Published to coincide with the U.N.-declared International Year of the Ocean, Safina's first book (he has written for Scientific American and Audubon) is a welcome paean to "the reality of the living oceans." Four maps. Rights (except British and electronic): Jean V. Naggar. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Other than fishers and oceanographers, few people have taken note of the worldwide decline of fish populations. Sounding an alarm, Safina argues that we must extend a sense of biological community to ocean animals. (LJ 11/1/97)
To understand the connections between the sea and our own survival, Safina, founder of the Audubon Society's Living Oceans Program, probes for truth in this world tour of the oceans and their peoples. Exploring coasts, islands, reefs, and the sea's abyssal depths, Safina demonstrates that today's unregulated global economy exerts a tremendous pull on the world's oceans and presents dramatic and hopeful stories of the sea's revival and replenishment. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Bill McKibben
One of those revolutionary works that permanently alter our view of a subject. -- Bill McKibben, Interview
Sylvia Earle
Safina is to the sea what Aldo Leopold was for the land -- an articulate visionary. -- Sylvia Earle
NY Times Book Review
An engrossing, illuminating, depressing journey, with a research ecologist, to the dwindling populations of wild edible creatures in the sea.

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.56(w) x 9.59(h) x 1.54(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Gulf of Maine

"I think there may be something to show you here," Charlie Horton is saying through my headphones. Horton likes the color of this water. After flying over miles of oceanic desert, skimming wave upon wave unrelieved, this blue oasis is coming alive for us, finally.

Two sleek finback whales are plowing furrows in the surface below us, at an uncommonly swift pace. Charlie banks his airplane for a better look. As he's visually locked onto them, I glance down between the struts and am startled to see a school of very, very big fish. "Right here! Right here!"

Horton banks hard and the plane wheels in a tight, gut-jumping circle. "Yup, tuna!" he says. "Good ones! Some five-hundred-pounders in that bunch." About a hundred giant bluefin tuna are traveling peacefully just under the surface. The animals I am looking at are so large, I expect them to behave like dolphins; that they are not coming to the surface to breathe air feels somehow uncomfortable. I have to remind myself--it seems so odd--that these large creatures are truly fish.

Close your eyes. Think fish. Do you envision half a ton of laminated muscle rocketing through the sea as fast as you drive your automobile? Do you envision a peaceful warrior capable of killing you unintentionally with a whack of its tail? These giant tuna strain the concept of fish. "Fish," anyhow, is a matter of dry taxonomy, the discipline that tells more of your origins than of who you are now. "Fish" is a label, like your surname that relates you to both your disgraceful uncle and your extraordinary cousin, yet says nothing of you. Name is not destiny. Your relationship to those around you--your ecology, if you will--defines you in the moment.

The giant tuna rise in unison, their backs breaking wakes like a flotilla of small boats. As they continue cruising, one of them splashes and sprints forward a few yards, like a thoroughbred jittery before a race, its behavior hinting strongly of enormous power in repose. What sense of the world, what feeling, moves this animal? Is it impatient? Is it thinking?

Questions large and small come forward. The airplane turns a slow arc.

Below, in plain sight, swim giant creatures from another dimension, confined below the surface no less than we are confined above it. They feel not the breeze but the tides; they have never pressed a solid surface; they breathe by moving forward and can never rest. How may we know them?

Charlie watches the bluefins a moment and jots a note about their number and location. Charlie Horton is a professional fish spotter, finding bluefin tuna and swordfish from the air, then guiding a commercial fishing boat to them. Today, though, Charlie isn't working with a boat. He has only me to worry about. I have formally requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begin a process that could end commercial fishing for bluefin tuna. But I've arranged to come fishing (as Charlie refers to flying) with him and with others in New England, because many fishermen insist that bluefin numbers are increasing and that the petition should be withdrawn. I want to see if I can get their sense of things, and try to understand their lives and livelihoods a little.

We continue onward, hurtling over the shimmer, searching, scanning. White bursts--these too may be giant bluefins--draw our attention. Rather than tuna several hundred white-sided dolphins come into focus, undulating crisply through the sea surface below. They glide up to snatch breath without breaking stride, then run along submerged, until coming easily again for the next inspiration of air. All this they do in one fluent movement, seemingly having as little need to think about breathing as we. Their fluid maneuvers are excruciatingly beautiful, a living embroidery of motion through the ocean's wrinkled cloth. Having never watched dolphins from the air before, I am surprised that the animals are not evenly spaced. Certain individuals consort more closely together than others. I wonder if these are parents with their grown offspring, families, relatives, perhaps friends. Behind and following the dolphins, crisscrossing and coursing just above the waves, flies a loose flock of shearwaters, oceanic wanderers who touch land only when nesting. A blue shark appears, lazily wagging its way along just beneath the surface.

All the animals gathered in this one area have my riveted attention, but Charlie sheers away, and we continue along at 107 knots.

For the next thirty miles, we see little but ocean and sky. Charlie scans intently and tirelessly, as many square miles of sea surface pass beneath us. The shimmer mesmerizes me. After what seems a long while, Charlie says, "Look west."

A couple of miles away, the activity of half a dozen whales whitens a small area in the rolling blue universe. Another isolated oasis. A hundred and twenty miles an hour is fast, and we cover the distance to the whales in a blink. Now at least a dozen finbacks and humpbacks trouble the surface below, over an area perhaps four miles in diameter. One humpback breaches and crashes back, sending up an astonishing geyser of spray and foam. Remarks Charlie, "When you see whales like this, you could see tuna anywhere around here."

Up ahead, an enormous finback is doing some heavy breathing at the surface, sending up columns of steamy vapor each time it exhales. Signaling a deep dive with its arching back, the whale sounds straightaway like an arrow, out of sight. Directly below, two humpbacks, a mother and calf, erupt suddenly through the surface, blowing hard. Another mother and calf soon follow, up from infinity. We watch the whales moving along beneath the surface between breaths, their long and slender pectoral fins waving like the graceful arms of dancers. The whales roll forward in unison, lifting their massive tail flukes toward the sky, then flowing seamlessly into a sounding dive, digging straight down into very clear water for a few wonderfully extended seconds, before finally dissolving into that deep eternal indigo.

Charlie goes into a search pattern. His judgment that this is a place worth scrutinizing pays off. We spot a school of a dozen giant bluefins and turn hard to circle them. Their movements appear stiff, as though their massive musculature is packed into too tight a skin. Autumn is upon us, and after summering on rich feeding grounds, the bluefins are nearing their fattest. The big fish swim tautly. Their tails--sickle shaped, capable of flexion but stiff, fibrous like fiberglass--wag ever so slightly. I am looking down at a pod of zeppelins reshaped for speed. Were Atlas to put down the world for a moment and pick up a giant bluefin, it would balance in his fingers like a dart, with its greatest mass gathered up front, to carry the momentum and deliver the impact. Widest just behind the head, the animals I am watching taper rapidly toward their propelling tails. When a giant bluefin tuna decides to move, it does not so much swim through the water as split it like a wedge.

Charlie asks whether his abrupt maneuvering is making me queasy. His questioning brings me back inside my body, and I realize that the engine noise, the vibration, and the frequent sharp banking and rapid changes in altitude are getting to my stomach a little bit.

We head off to the southeast, crossing miles of featureless water over many long minutes, scanning, always scanning. Each time we go searching, my stomach recovers. Each time we find life and begin to bank hard and wheel, queasiness returns.

Off in the eastern distance, a hundred or so shearwaters and gulls are sitting on the water in scattered groups, like salt and pepper on a blue plate. We investigate. A dead whale, well decomposed, hangs vertically, producing a slick that runs for miles. Charlie banks tightly and swoops in. My poor stomach gives another tug. I dig into my sweatshirt for a package of little crackers and unthinkingly toss a handful toward my mouth; they bounce off of my headset's featherweight mouthpiece and scatter on the cabin floor.

Several large, well-gorged blue sharks--"blue dogs" as Charlie calls them--lounge with languid leisure in the fetid slick. They exemplify carnivorous contentment. Most assuredly, this is blue shark heaven. When blue dogs die, they must hope to go to the big, reeking whale carcass in the sky. Charlie only glances at the sharks, but he watches the birds' behavior carefully. These birds prey on the same fish and squid as do the tuna, and birds' behavior can betray tuna hunting near the surface. Charlie tells me that once, while watching shearwaters swimming underwater, feeding on small herring, he saw one of them get hit by a blue shark during a dive. "When the shearwater come to the surface, one wing was not working. He began going in circles. The shark appeared, chasing that bird round and round like you wouldn't believe. Finally wore the shearwater out and nailed him." Blue shark heaven can be shearwater hell. We leave the scene.

A plump humpback, grand and beautiful, pops out at about two o'clock, to the south, idly doing barrel rolls in the water. Charlie notices an enormous streak of subtle color deep under the whale and explains, "That streak is a big school of sand eels that the whale's been feeding on." Tuna eat sand eels too, so we check this area carefully.

Charlie circles tightly, and centrifugal forces make themselves felt in my abdomen. Two "little" twenty-five-foot-long minke whales ("minke" rhymes with "kinky") surface nearby. With their white-tipped flippers, the minkes look like they're playing Ping-Pong. They abruptly disappear. Minkes were of no interest to whale hunters until the much larger whales were reduced to near extinction. Now actively hunted by Norwegians and the Japanese, who disingenuously say they hunt them "for scientific purposes," their meat is consumed in Japan. The hunts are used as a pretext for killing other, highly endangered protected whales, whose meat is then labeled "minke"--as DNA tests of whale meat from Japanese markets have proved. These minkes, though, remain safe from whale hunters at present.

A basking shark, gray and huge, comes into focus as though entering from the Dreamtime. Estimated length: thirty feet. It slices a slit with its immense dorsal fin. Like the great whales, this gentle giant subsists on tiny animals straining them from the water with the cave that is its mouth. The placid monster swims unhurriedly at the surface, a life within temporal and spatial dimensions we can only begin to guess at.

Several small pods of giant tuna appear near the surface not far from the basking shark. Inexplicably and impressively, some of the giants come through the surface and crash. Horton, who has seen this a thousand times, cheers. These massive tuna are magnificent animals.

We have covered a lot of territory this morning, and seen remarkable things. Accustomed to plodding along the sea surface in a boat, I find the airplane's great speed, which allows us to cover so vast an area and find so many pockets of life at such a breathtaking pace, literally a new experience of space and time. A fish spotter can cover, apparently, the entire Gulf of Maine in a day, keeping close tabs on where, in the moving waters, the life is concentrated.

Having come all the way across the Gulf to an area east of Provincetown, Massachusetts, Horton is heading us down to Chatham, at the elbow of Cape Cod, for lunch. He asks what I want to eat, so he can radio our order ahead. All I can think of is crackers to settle my stomach. Horton turns the aircraft to the southwest, and the outline of Cape Cod appears vaguely in the hazy distance. "That last bunch of tuna was really nice; six- or seven-hundred-pounders. Jeez they were beautiful," he says as he reaches for the funnel and "relief tube" that drains to the outside of the aircraft. "I can fly forever when the sky and sea are this gorgeous. In the air, looking for fish--I love this. Every time I come up here, I thank the Lord."


Earlier this morning, when I was a poorer man than I am now, I drove to the Sanford, Maine, airport and met Charlie Horton for the first time. Horton relies on finding bluefin tuna for a significant part of his income, but according to the Atlantic tuna commission, the bluefin's breeding population has dropped nearly 90 percent in just fifteen years, and many scientists expect continued decline. The National Audubon Society has recently petitioned the government to list the bluefin under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, usually called CITES (pronounced SIGH-tees). This would effectively suspend commercial fishing for bluefin. I wrote the petition. I did so after American and Japanese representatives to the tuna commission told me that, despite the precipitous decline reported to them by their own scientists, they had no intention of reducing bluefin catch quotas.

The commission's formal name is the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. It is usually referred to by its acronym, ICCAT (pronounced EYE-cat). ICCAT comprises roughly twenty member Atlantic-rim countries, plus Japan, which is both a major fisher of Atlantic tunas and the major importer and consumer of bluefins. Founded in the late 1960s, the commission assumed authority for "tunas and tuna-like species," including marlins and swordfish. The commission's charter mandates that it manage for "maximum sustainable yield," meaning, essentially, the most fish that can be taken from a healthy population without causing it to slide into long-term decline.

But according to the commission's own scientific reports, most species the commission has authority for have, in fact, declined sharply since the 1970s. Species now at their lowest levels in history include: bluefin tuna, blue marlin, white marlin, eastern Atlantic yellowfin tuna, albacore tuna, bigeye tuna, and swordfish. Though the commission claims to be "managing" the fisheries, the only catch quotas it has are for the bluefin and for swordfish. But those quotas have always been much higher than the commission's scientists recommended--and much higher than the populations could withstand. The commission has in effect presided over the depletion of many of the Atlantic's big fishes. This illustrious resume suggests that the acronym ICCAT might as well stand for International Conspiracy to Catch All the Tunas.

I wrote the bluefin petition with the hope that one international treaty organization--CITES--could force another international treaty organization--ICCAT--to act responsibly. Ideally, threat of action under CITES--which could categorize the fish as endangered--will pressure the tuna commission into reducing catches enough to let the bluefin population rebuild. In the long term, many more people would benefit from a rebuilt bluefin population--as, of course, would the fish themselves. The downside is that until the population rebuilds, people who fish for a living--good, decent, hardworking people--could be financially hurt by lowered catch quotas. But the same people will be hurt anyway if the tuna commission refuses to reduce catches and the bluefin declines even further. It is a situation that could have been avoided had the tuna commission lived up to its responsibilities and its name all these years.

But that is only my opinion. And it is based largely on the assumption that the scientific information developed by the tuna commission is accurate. Millions of dollars ride on that question. A CITES listing for bluefin tuna would suspend exports of the fish between the east coast of North America and Japan, the major market. Animals listed on CITES's Appendix I, such as the African elephant, are considered to be in danger of extinction, and they or their parts may not be brought across national boundaries. This is the mechanism that banned international trade in ivory. If the bluefin were to be listed and the fish barred from export, the price would crumble. At U.S. prices, fishing for days or weeks to catch one rare giant bluefin tuna, as is done now, would no longer be profitable, and the fishery would become commercially extinct.

But with the Japanese market, the bluefin is worth fantastic money. Fishers can be paid, depending on the quality and condition of the individual fish, more than $50 per pound for a fish that can weigh hundreds of pounds (the largest bluefin tuna on record weighed nearly 1,500 pounds). Although the mighty bluefin tuna is capable of trans-Atlantic migrations, probably more bluefins from the east coast of North America cross the Pacific, because the next step in the transaction is a one-way air-freight ticket to Tokyo. Here wholesalers auction the fish to retailers. One bluefin tuna recently sold for $83,500, nearly $117 per pound. The 715-pound giant was to be reduced to 2,400 servings of sushi, which, because of the exceptional quality of this individual fish, would be served to elite businessmen and government officials for $75 per serving, bringing in, altogether, an estimated $180,000. One fish.

Besides high prices, the bluefin commands an awed, almost mystical respect and devotion among those who know the animal most intimately. One says, "If you talk to enough fishermen, you may sense how much we really love the bluefin and how much they mean to us. I think it's the way the Indians felt about the buffalo." But people love the bluefin in different ways. Fishers, conservationists, governments, and international treaty organizations continually embroil themselves in bitter international struggles over control and salvation of the fishery.

Perhaps only wolves, African elephants, and the great whales inspire the same intense controversy and anger over their exploitation and "management." While various factions struggle to control the fishing and the money it generates, fishermen around the world hunt the bluefin with everything from harpoons to airplanes to satellites.

But none of this struggle was apparent in the gracious way Charlie Horton greeted me when we met on the runway this morning, before leading me to his bright yellow single-engine Super Cub.

Horton, zipping up his leather jacket, began the flight as he always does, preparing for the worst. "If we have to ditch, I won't have time to explain things. You reach in here and pull out the raft and two survival suits to keep us from freezing to death. If we don't have time to get the suits, that's fine. You pull this handle, and you should have a four-man raft in all its glory. Hang onto that raft, because if you let go, it's going to take off in the breeze and you'll never catch it. To be safe, we have to anticipate trouble." That anticipation has already saved Charlie's life once.

We got clearance to take off and climbed into the Maine morning. A thin ribbon of green water edged the shore; then the bottom dropped away, leaving the blue ocean shimmering, a constantly changing patchwork quilt of breeze patterns and slicks.

We climbed to two thousand feet. A mile from shore, the surface was sprinkled with thousands of lobster buoys, a broad band of colorful dots stretching along the coast to the ends of vision. Looking down, it was difficult to imagine how the lobstermen can tell whose buoys are whose, but it was easy to understand why the huge lobsters one sees mounted on restaurant walls are mostly from long ago.

While I pondered lobsters, Charlie checked a nautical chart showing the sea-floor topography of the Gulf of Maine. Looking at the ocean, he does not see the surface so much as envision the bottom. On Charlie's map, all drawn detail is underwater. Except for the names of a few coastal towns, the land lies blank and incidental, an empty border to the sea, most useful for jotting notes. Charlie studied the map and determined a route across the Gulf that would take us over several major sea-floor features that--while remaining hidden beneath hundreds of feet of water--affect what one sees on the surface. The ridges, hills, canyons, and slopes on the bottom of the sea affect the movement of masses of water. These water masses, differing in temperature, nutrients, and oxygen, form a moving mosaic of habitats that determine the distribution of fish.

"Hundred and seven miles, hundred eighty degrees. Take us, depending on what we find and how much we dally on the way, maybe three hours going down to Chatham," he announced.

We headed south under a clear sky, over the ocean's blue expanse. Before long the land set behind us and dropped out of sight, and we were without any apparent point of reference.

"Let me show you how I can tell where we are," Charlie offered. His map is superimposed with gridded "loran"--short for Long-Range Navigation--lines and his plane is equipped with a device that receives signals broadcast from government sending stations and, by triangulating, electronically calculates and displays its exact location. Virtually all planes and fishing boats have loran units or satellite positioning systems on board, allowing them to find and return to pinpoint locations on a trackless ocean with push-button ease

"I can punch in the position of every group of fish I see," Charlie explained, sliding the map over to me and interpreting notations made on a separate piece of paper. "This is from the last time I was out. I had a school of thirty-five small tuna at this point. Then over here, I saw one lone fish, a pretty good-size one." To return to where he saw something last evening or last summer, Charlie punches a button, and the loran unit gives the heading, reads off the distance to go, draws a steering diagram, and displays ground speed and time till arrival.

Fishermen are the last major hunter-gatherers in modern culture, pursuing wildlife on an industrial scale with all the tools of the space age brought to bear. But if finding fish from the air seems a high-tech approach--and it is--the irony is that the boats Charlie works with catch the huge fish by throwing spears. Space age or not, all hunters, be they bushmen or boatmen, must be able to find and capture quarry in what remains of the concealing wilderness. Despite the tremendous advantage of the plane for revealing the fish's position, the person wielding the hand-thrown harpoon must possess considerable skill if the operation is to be profitable. Approaching a wild, wary fish worth thousands of dollars, while a circling pilot, several crew members, and their families are depending on you for the rent, requires the "stick man" to summon a level of concentration and alert, unthinking attention that can best be appreciated only by those who do it.

Once a tuna is hit by the harpoon, the technology again advances to the electronic age. The harpoon is rigged with a hot wire that electrocutes the fish. In the old days, the fish would run out a harpoon rope attached to a big buoy and a flag. Pulling the rope and buoy would tire the fish until it could be retrieved. Occasionally, an exceptionally powerful fish would continue to run until the flag was lost from sight. One old-timer explained, "Some fish, Christ, they can just keep going and going and going. One time we stuck a fish and his buoy flag just disappeared. One week later, it come sailing back into the bay again. The fish was still alive on it." Nowadays, Charlie explained, the zapped fish is dead within seconds. "That hummer will go about fifty feet and roll over, belly up, just like that. You haul them right aboard."

On his best day last month, Charlie saw twelve schools of tuna within five miles of each other. The boat working with him harpooned seven fish. "Those giants were pretty tame, because we were way out beyond where most boats go," Charlie said. "They're not usually so easy to approach. Bluefin tuna are becoming more educated. A few years ago, you could fly an airplane over the top of these fish, and it didn't bother them at all. This year, particularly, I notice that if you're at anything less than four or five hundred feet, they'll go right down. They hear the engine or see a shadow and they know it means trouble. And as the season gets along and the fish get more harassed, they're more wary. They learn. So we've got a very unusual fish here. Most fish don't seem to have the memory that the bluefin has. It never ceases to amaze me how smart they are. If the swordfish was as smart as the bluefin, he wouldn't be an endangered species, which, in my opinion, he is. He's in trouble. With the tuna, I think we're in good shape, I really do. I think there are a lot of bluefins around and I hope it stays that way. I only wish the swordfish were doing as well as the bluefin tuna."

Before he started fishing with this airplane in 1984, Charlie worked on a boat that did a lot of swordfish harpooning south of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. He used to see six or eight a day and get three or four, on average. On the best days, the top guys could harpoon thirty or forty swordfish. "And then all of a sudden we didn't see them from the boat anymore, so I got the airplane. But it dropped right off." In 1985, the last year that boat fished, the crew caught three swordfish the whole season. "After that," Charlie said, "as far as I know, nobody even saw a swordfish south of Martha's Vineyard." So he started swordfishing with Canadian boats on Georges Bank. "Three years ago we got a hundred and thirty swordfish for one boat. Last year we got thirty. This year, fifteen. They're doing the same thing out there on Georges now, in my opinion, that we saw south of Martha's Vineyard. Drying it right up."

Charlie believes the swordfish's biggest problem is caused by long-lining. A longline is a line some twenty to eighty miles long, with over a thousand baited hooks. Swordfish do not begin breeding until they weigh over a hundred pounds, and the ones harpooners saw at the surface were generally quite big. But longlines catch large numbers of small swordfish. Complained Charlie, "They get swordfish two feet long! They throw the little pups overboard dead. It's a terrible shame to kill a twenty-pound fish that could have grown to six hundred."

If airplanes, radios, sea-floor charts, loran, and video sonar are not enough to reveal the fish, pilots and boat captains can subscribe (via onboard fax, if that is their preference) to daily satellite-generated maps of sea-surface temperature patterns, so they can maintain a big-picture view of water movements in the habitat mosaic. The owner of several tuna-netting boats, his diamond ring glinting in the sunlight, once told me this story: "This summer, I saw on the satellite charts that a big finger of warm water had broken off from the Gulf Stream and was coming inshore. It was just the right temperature for yellowfin tuna, so we rushed one of our boats there. He loaded up with five hundred tons of yellowfin in six days, unloaded, went back, and loaded up four hundred tons in the next six days. Got eleven hundred tons total for the season; most yellowfin tuna we ever got." This is not the same as poachers finding bears by tuning in to their radio collars, perhaps, but the analogy suggests itself. It's not that technology is bad, but without good management guided by long-term thinking and mindful of natural limits, technology can get misused. The unpleasant reality of this--the collapse of overfished animals and the destruction of fishing economies--has been presented to us many times, laid at our feet like a dead bird brought by the cat, and we have been too overwrought each time by the tragedy and the sight to examine it and ask where all these dead birds are coming from, and with what effect. In the U.S. alone the Department of Commerce estimates that fisheries depletions cost billions of dollars annually, and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs.

After a thoughtful pause, Charlie said, "You know, I've thought about the Audubon Society trying to restrict bluefin tuna exports to Japan, and I said `What the heck are these guys getting into this for?' they're supposed to be bird guys, right? But, the truth is, the fish guys have done a lousy job. I mean, a really lousy job. So I'll support anybody that'll save these resources. I don't want to see these damn fish disappear so that when young fellas come along there's nothing for them. It's possible we could wipe the fish out, just like it's possible to wipe out any species."

The shoreline of the outer Cape is coming into crisp view, with its undulating white line of breakers. The beige bluffs, amber beach-grass meadows, green patches of forest, emerald salt marshes, and meandering channels sprawl in resplendent repose, their concerted colors a visual ode to joy. We fly along the national seashore at Truro, past Wellfleet, and over a lobsterman hauling his traps. Though it's Sunday, the beach is almost devoid of people. It is September, and those who neither fish nor have an eye for migrant birds have retreated back indoors, leaving the most beautiful month to a few lucky people. At Pleasant Bay--an understated name--white boats, tugging at their moorings like ponies, punctuate blue channels.

We land smoothly on grass alongside the Chatham runway. One just-landed plane is being towed off the airstrip, having run out of fuel before it reached the end of the pavement. The pilot is laughing.

In the snack bar, several fish-spotting pilots compare impressions: "I saw a lot of blue sharks today, not too many porpoises."

"Listen, I don't know where your boat is, but I tell you, it'd be worth it to get them over to the BB buoy. Sand eels are thick there. That's where you're gonna find the tuna."

"All week we've seen fish where my boat is today, except the weather hasn't been calm enough to get to them. Now that the weather is finally good, there's a big seine netter down there waiting to move in on them the moment they show."

* * *

After lunch, we taxi into the sunshine and head southeast. A line of billowy clouds on the far horizon accents the blue clarity of the sky. The ocean looks bluer still, almost cobalt.

Mile after mile of rolling blue prairie flows below us, stretching to the ends of the earth, revealing nothing.

Clear, blue offshore waters are oceanic deserts, with pockets of dense life separated by great expanses of relative emptiness. In terrestrial deserts, the amount of life is limited by lack of water, while in oceanic deserts life is limited by lack of nutrients. Camel-like, many open-ocean creatures are in effect desert-adapted animals, able to cross vast tracts of barren habitat until they find the oases containing the food they need.

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Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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