Posts Tagged 'fish'


IMG_5193Gasping at the surface near the pier, this fish was in trouble. Or so I thought. But it seemed to successfully dive back into the deeps, so it might have been feeding at something I couldn’t see on the surface. About 14″ long: what is it? IMG_5235And here, soon after low tide way up the Gowanus, a school of much smaller killifish, perhaps Mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus).

River of Milky Jade

gowanusSigns of life in the Superfund Gowanus, which has a weird milky jade color (and, oy, the stink!) this time of year.


Deborah BrownNature is everywhere, and representations of nature are likewise. This is one of Deborah Brown’s mosaics at Houston Street, part of a work called “Platform Diving,” which envisions the station underwater — not so hard to do anymore — with turtles, dolphins, and this octopus swimming through the old rattle and roll.This I found in the unisex bathroom in Cornelius on Vanderbilt. There is, in fact, a fish called the Pogge: it’s Agonus cataphractus, a small fish found in British waters. When such prints are untimely ripped from books, a lot of the context vanishes, but the untrusty old innernets can help.

Summer Flounder

D’oh! Forgot to take my camera when we took Nora to the Maria Mitchell Aquarium. Next time. But in the meantime, on the porch of the MMA administrative building, next to the whale bone, I found this dessicated Summer Flounder (Paralichthys dentatus), classic example of a flatfish with both its eyes on the top side. The eyes to the left, as well as the eye-like patterns on the body, identify it. Other flounders like the Winter have their eyes on the right side. Flat fish are born with their eyes on opposite sides; the “other” eye migrates to the dominant side as these fish grow. According to members of the U.S. House Committee on Science, this is because they looked cross-eyed at God and were cursed forever approximately 6,000 years ago.And this is what the underside (right-hand side in the Summer’s case; starboard to the sailor) looks like. They can change the color and pattern on their topside to match the ocean habitat below them (sandy, muddy, etc.), but their underside is quite plain. No need for camo. you will only see this side when you pull it out of the water, and as a major commercial fish, they are pulled. This was a youngster, about five inches long; they can get up to 20 inches and 3 pounds. Found up and down the East Coast, especially between Massachusetts to the Carolinas. They have a very wavy swimming motion, like ribbon in the water.

Right. But what was it doing on the porch? Rather fishy…. This brings to mind Thoreau’s notion that “some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.” Hell of a line, but what the hell does it mean? What is it evidence of? Milk that’s been diluted, that’s what, in this case with water from the local trout stream. Before gummerment started its dangblang interferrin’ with things like health and safety, interference of course demanded by an enraged populace, adulterators of milk tried to get away with whatever they could. Remember that both Prospect Park and Central Park had diaries in their early days so children could get fresh milk at a time when other sources were iffy at best. American history is being repeated as tragic farce in China, where the murderous rampages of unregulated capitalism have resulted in poisoned milk, poisoned toys, etc.

Sheepshead Bay

Ten piers, ten local creatures of the sea.

Pelham Bay Park

“Only the dead know Brooklyn…” but you can say the same thing for the rest of NYC. Five massive boroughs: it’s a full-time job to explore them all. Last Saturday, we journeyed up to the eastern Bronx to visit Pelham Bay Park. Pharaoh — or should I say “Tyrant,” based on the Greco-design of the bathhouse — Robert Moses had Orchard Beach built there in the late 1930s from sand barged up from dredging in the Rockaways. He — of course I mean his workers — merged a small peninsula of the Bronx, Rodman’s Neck, to several rocky islands with a mile-long arc of beach facing Pelham Bay. The resulting “Riviera of the Bronx” should be experienced just for itself: this is da Bronx letting it all hang out, papi.

He didn’t seem to be trying to separate the Ring-billed from the Herring gulls.

Just west of the beach is parking for 6,8000 cars — Jesus freaking Moses! — but we ventured up on the 6 train and the Bx12 bus, a long trip but well worth it. (Unfortunately, the bus only runs in summer.) Hunter’s Island north of the beach has some nice, but we thought haphazardly marked, trails. Considering the number of people on the beach, there were only a few in the woods, although the salsa from the beach could be heard throughout. This is a fine stretch of mature oak-hickory forest (alas for the chestnuts!), with patches of white pine, and remnants of John Hunter’s mid-19th century estate garden. Cabbage White butterflies were absolutely everywhere in the woods, from the path to the upper canopy. We passed three broken robin’s eggs on the path. But wait! With this great forest, you also get: the rocky shore of Hunter and it’s neighbor, Twin Island. This is Hartland Formation schist, a convoluted gneiss, with numerous quartz veins, one of the bedrocks of the region that looks amazingly tortured in places. Where it meets the water of Long Island Sound, the rock is smoothly worn away by long erosion. For those of us from Brooklyn, which is made up of chaotic piles of glacial till, or rubble, the exposed bones of the earth here are evidence of the great drama of regional geology.We found our old friends, Spartina cordgrass, ribbed mussels, and fiddler crabs, anchoring expanses of tidal salt marsh. All the rocks meant blue mussels as well, much paler specimens than I’m used to. Long Island Sound is rife with invasive species, and we found one of them, the Asian or Japanese Shore Crab (Hemigrapsus sanguineus). This trio was sun-bleached.

The mudflats were well-patrolled by several Great and and few Snowy egrets and half a dozen Black-crowned Night herons. A single Great Blue Heron also rose up on its six foot wings. They should eat more invasive crabs! unfortunately, these crabs like rocky habitats, not mud flats. In all, we saw about thirty species of birds. The ranger at the Nature Center told us that a pair of Great Horned Owls had successfully nested in the area this spring. We didn’t see the birds, but we did luck upon an unusual feather very near to the Nature Center that sure looked raptor-ish. Upon research, it in fact turned out to look a lot like a tail feather from a Great Horned Owl.Inside the Center we came across another Bronx native, an Eastern Box Turtle.Totally unexpected, but where the tide is concerned, one should always expect the unexpected. (This has been the downfall of more than one mobster.) This foot-long American eel (Anguilla rostrata) is probably under two years old, not yet sexually mature, in the process of becoming a “yellow eel” as this stage in its life is called. (UPDATE: That is, if it was alive. It’s an ex-eel.)

The Hunter’s Island Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary, to give it its official title, should be on everyone’s list of urban natural history hotspots.


Sun-dried, the remains of a skate repose on that great depository of all things, the beach, Jamaica Bay branch. This may be the Little or Common Skate, Leucoraja erinacea. Cartilaginous like their relatives the sharks, skates reproduce by laying eggs, unlike their near look-a-likes the rays, who bear live young. Rays also have longer, more whip-like tails, with those dangerous stinging spines. There are no poisonous spines on skate tails. And rays are generally tropical. The underside of another dead skate further along the beach. I assume I’ll meet death with a similar expression.

Oddly, I don’t seem to have a photo of a skate egg case, those black-brown “mermaid’s purses” with two stiff arms on each side, that I’ve been finding along the beach for, um, 40 years or so, but here’s a drawing by Marion Appel to remind you:

Gowanus Fish

Life in the Gowanus, and I don’t mean the mythological Carroll Gardens flipper-baby frogmen that are supposedly heard plopping and flopping in the greasy water on still moonless nights.

Coney Island’s Endemic Species

You have to be a certain age to remember when Coney Island Whitefish teemed off of Brooklyn’s shores in such massive schools that beach-goers wouldn’t dare go into the water. Today, however, they’re a rare sight.

Although sometimes mistaken for the pallid Manhattan eel  (Mentula brevus), the Coney Island Whitefish is a unique species. Sitts coneius breeds terrestrially, separating from the parent like a shed polyp. The young Whitefish are then dragged into the ocean by the receding tide. In the sea, they’re notoriously sluggish swimmers. In fact, they’re usually washed back ashore, and then sucked back out again. It’s a Sisyphean existence, in and out, in and out with the tide.

Fishermen despair of the limp things. When asked about them, Sheepshead Bay charter boat skippers Sal Ippolito and Tony Quadratti, who between them have three quarters of a century worth of experience, look at each other and shake their heads.

“Hardly ever see those anymore,” says Sal. “Not that I miss ’em. Nobody eats ’em, they’re too rubbery, not even the gulls.”

Tony adds, “And when you do find them now, they’re sometimes green! Sorta, you know, like they’re minty. Never saw that back in the day.”

And yet… what a piece of Brooklyniana is the Coney Island Whitefish! The borough’s mythos resounds with them, slipping through the rotting wooden piers of the first half of the 20th century. Ah, what glories! What memories! They’re as Brooklyn as apple pie is American. After all, who doesn’t remember Brooklyn-born Phil Slivers quipping, in the hilarious This Accountant For Hire, “Even if the whitefish fits, don’t wear it!”, especially after the line was sampled by Brownsville hip-hop duo Smif-n-Wessun?

In honor, then, of the Coney Island Whitefish, lost marker of the glory that was, Borough President* Marty Markowitz will be eating a plate of them today on the Borough Hall steps at noon, followed by a slice of Junior’s Cheesecake.

*The Borough President is our official municipal cheerleader. Formerly hereditary, the position is now underwritten by major developers and Russian oligarch-gangsters.

Strange Fish

Back in March, I found a perfectly preserved northern pipefish on the coast of Brooklyn. When I found it, I didn’t know what it was, but I thought it looked like a straightened seahorse. It turns out that seahorses and pipefish are related, in the Syngnathidae family along with the seadragons. I’ve never seen a seahorse, alive or dead, in the wild, but the Lined seahorse, Hippocampus erectus, is native to our region. It’s one of about three dozen species found world-wide.

Since then, I’ve been reading Helen Scales’ Poseidon’s Steed, about seahorses. Fascinating creatures, much mythologized, but real. They are actually fish, and they are unique in that the males give birth. Females impregnate the males with eggs; males launch their milt into the water, suck it back in, and then hold the now fertilized eggs through development until laborious birth. We didn’t know this until fairly recently, so that can’t be the reason seahorses are used in traditional Chinese medicine, typically to pep up the ol’ pecker. Like ivory, horn, seal genitals, and other exotic parts, seahorses are enlisted in the battery of pseudoscience against the male human’s bete noir, impotence. Even when these powders are shown to be tainted with lead – nothing like some toxic metal in your whang to impress the ladies – the lust for them does not cease (the little blue pill hasn’t softened the demand for these species, unfortunately), indeed it increases as the combined forces of rarity and greater demand grind together.

But you shouldn’t think that’s the only thing endangering the seahorses. Oh, no, the desires of the Great Devourer are much stronger than that: for instance, the shrimp industry scraps the seafloor, destroying habitat and everything in the nets’ deadly way. And then there’s global warming, which is both warming the water and making it more acidic. Warmer water, in the best-case scenario, means that those species who can move will. But acidification, caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide, dissolves calcium carbonate, the building block of much of ocean life. Grim tidings… but unlike National Geographic, which seems to end every article on a note of uplift, probably so as not to upset their advertisers, that’s all I’ve got, damn it.


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