National Geographic : 1938 Oct
TREASURES OF THE PACIFIC Marine Fishes and Fisheries Yield Vast Wealth from Alaska to Baja California* BY LEONARD P. SCHULTZ Curator of Fishes, United States National Museum MARINE fishes and fisheries form the basis of one of the most im portant industries of the west coast of the United States. In our Pacific ports a larger poundage of fish is landed than in our Atlantic and Gulf coast ports combined. Monterey, California, in poundage, is the third largest port of entry for fish in the world, exceeded only by Hull, England, and Stavanger, Norway; and Los Angeles-Long Beach is fourth. These and many other interesting facts about the marine fishes and fisheries of the West came to my attention in the years I was teaching fisheries courses at the University of Washington, and col lecting fishes from Washington to Cali fornia. THE SEA SERPENT MYTH Sea serpents are known the world over, mostly from newspaper accounts of these mythical monsters. From British Colum bia comes the story of a long-haired "sea serpent" found on the beach. Alas for romance! The hairs were the long gill rakers of a mammoth basking shark, which had become stranded and then partly de composed. Sea serpents are figments of imagination, created from glimpses of huge fish, or com pact schools of small fish swimming near the surface of the ocean. In the Pacific the "king of the herring," a long, harmless, ribbon-shaped fish with a high dorsal fin in front, the reddish tips of which often extend out of the water when it is swimming near the surface, is good material for such a yarn. Other myths of my childhood were shat tered when I took up the serious study of fish. For instance, when I used to angle for sunfish in a small lake in Michigan, my elders cautioned me not to talk loudly lest I frighten the fish away. I have learned since that sound in air is not transmitted to water except slightly, but that the stomping of feet in the bottom of the boat causes vibrations that can be heard in the water. Well do I remember as a boy swimming beneath the surface how two stones struck together in the water caused a frightful noise in my ears. Experiments in firing guns over lakes have shown that the terrific sound in the air is barely heard by a diver under the surface. Although fishermen of the high seas have placed emphasis on the disappear ance of fish as a result of gunfire from bat tleships, no signs of frightened fish have been discovered in the surrounding waters during repeated firing of large and small naval guns over stretches of many miles. The firing of big guns does not kill fish, but dynamite explosions in the water do. Once while I was at Yaquina Bay, Oregon, with Dr. Carl L. Hubbs of the University of Michigan, the Government was blasting the channel deeper. We were anxious to collect the fish killed by the detonation of a ton of dynamite that shot a column of water several hundred feet in the air. Although we were a quarter of a mile away, the force of the explosion stung the bottoms of our feet in a rowboat. The ter rific noise from the first explosion was the signal for thousands of sea gulls and other aquatic birds to come and eat the dead and stunned fish that floated to the surface. Before we could pick up a fish, the birds had consumed them all. BIRDS WATER-BOUND FROM OVEREATING Soon we discovered they had eaten so many fish that some could not fly from the water. We caught several birds and made them disgorge the fish in the bottom of the boat. In an hour we had a fine col lection; the fish were not damaged by their short stay in the stomachs of the birds. From additional experiences and explora tions by students of fish, some of which date as far back as 1731, many of the mysteries associated with the life story of fishes have been discovered. By the use of dredges and trawls the deep-sea fish * See NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Fishes and Fisheries of Our North Atlantic Seaboard," December, 1923, and "Devil-Fishing in the Gulf Stream," June, 1919, both by John Oliver La Gorce.