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January 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
What's this?

A Kauai Frogfish Follow-Up

letters from Hawaii and what you thought

from the January, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In response to the report on giant frogfish being taken from the water for a YouTube production, Undercurrent received this email from Scott Bacon, a local dive instructor:

"Coyote's actions were inconsiderate and harmful to this rare species. When he removed two frogfish from Koloa Landing in July of 2017, it enraged the local dive community. According to eyewitness reports and from watching his video footage, he removed two of the easier to find and most prominent frogfish. He put them in buckets to get them out of the water and then put them in a small glass aquarium up on the hot black lava rocks in the sun and videoed them for about 2 hours. During his video, he removed them from the tank multiple times. The glass aquarium had no equipment to maintain the cool water temperature, water circulation, or water oxygen levels to maintain the health of the fish.

"As divers, we do not touch or harass the frogfish, as they are amazing and rare species to encounter, and we do not want to hurt them or stress them.† We want them to be able to live in their natural environment, go about their lives without fear from being abducted so that we can observe their natural behaviors in their natural environment."

What You Thought About It

Undercurrent asked our readers what you thought with an online poll. About two-thirds of those who voted were against interfering with the fish and taking them from their habitat, while others thought that if it were for a good reason, it was OK.

For example, Dave Van Rooy (Austin, TX) suggested, "For the good of science, it's OK if they are doing this as a valid, scientific study. If [it's] just amateurs and not for public consumption (not just YouTube), it is wrong."

However, one Pennsylvania member says "Fish don't have the mental capacity to feel terrorized, it is just another environment to them. With the goal of exposing more people to the oceans and the wonderful things that are there, it works for me." And another member from Cincinnati wrote, "After watching the YouTube video, I did not see that the fish were mishandled in any way . . . did not seem to be under any stress and were put back into the ocean after the presentation. I do not see anything wrong with what was done."

However, we can't judge stress in fish just by watching them any better than we can in humans. Furthermore, fish do have feelings, which is unrelated to mental capacity. For example, Calum Brown, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, has published a review paper in the journal Animal Cognition entitled "Fish intelligence, sentience and ethics" that clearly shows fish are sentient and emotional beings and clearly feel pain in much the same way that humans do. Mental capacity has nothing to do with pain.

So, most readers just didn't cotton to Coyote's manhandling. John Dawson (Palo Alto, CA) thought differently and argued, "[It was] totally wrong. Filmmakers should not get a free pass to molest sea life because they are professionals, any more than it is OK for divemasters to molest sea life because they are leading a dive group. I'm glad the frogfish were [evidently] OK, but that doesn't excuse the behavior."

With a broader perspective, some views of subscribers were mirrored by Kara Leach (Denver, CO), who suggested, "Although I wish they had not disturbed the frogfish, maybe it is for the greater good to get nondiving people interested in reef species" while Tom Lopatin (Lake Hopatcong, NJ) countered by controversially asking, "Is it wrong to capture marine life for public aquariums? Is it wrong to pull a shark out of the water, stick a saltwater hose in its mouth and snip a tag on it, then put it back? Is it wrong to snap of photo of a fish with a strobe, terrorize and temporarily blind it? " Hmmm.

A Canadian, signing himself off as Terramoto (Earthquake) from Vancouver, BC, suggests there are greater concerns, writing, "It's a very minor offense compared to what other divers, fishermen, polluters, etc., do to our marine life. So, I wouldn't get worked up over it. It was educational, and they did put the animals back unharmed, and they were honest about the filming. If anything, the capture and non-release of [any] marine life should be prohibited. Now, that's something to get worked up about!"

A balanced opinion came from Josť Kirchner (Roseville, CA), who wrote, "In most instances, reef and ocean denizens should be photo-videoed in situ and not harassed. Yet, sometimes, professionals can only get valuable footage that demonstrates certain behaviors, color phases, etc., when confined to an aquarium. [This was certainly the case when recording some close-up sequences for Blue Planet II.] In these cases, if the confinement causes no harm, I'm okay with it. I'm not okay with harassing critters, e.g., poking, etc., bringing up Nautilus from the deep for liveaboard photos, etc."

And, Rick Ratliff, a Scuba charter operator (Jupiter, FL), adds, "It is wrong because of the risk of harm or death. However, we still eat fish. I'm not sure if this species of frogfish is in the endangered class or not -- obviously if it is, that would have been illegal, so I'm assuming it is not. So assuming it is just bad form and not illegal, can't we just accept the operator's apology and move on?"

We'll drink to that!

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