Sunday, March 14, 2021
Precipitation – None
Sunday, March 14, 2021
Precipitation – None
One of the reef sharks Blacktip Island researchers are modifying to glow in the dark, prior to being injected with bioluminescence. (photo courtesy of Richard Ling)
A group of Blacktip Island geneticists, citing safety concerns, this week have released multiple glow-in-the-dark sharks within the island’s Caribbean reef shark population.
“Many people, especially visitors, are scared of sharks,” Tiperon University-Blacktip marine science professor Ernesto Mojarra said. “This allows people to see them better. If swimmers know where the sharks are, and aren’t, they’ll feel better about going into the water. This’ll be a game changer when tourism kicks in again.
“We got the idea from all the recent news stories about other glowing fish,” Mojarra said. “Lots of species bioluminesce. We just enhanced a natural process by flipping the switch on some of our reef sharks. One simple injection in the dorsal fin does the trick, almost like we’re tagging them, so there’s no real negative effect on the fish.”
Local residents praised the breakthrough.
“Safety wise, the glow isn’t so effective in the day, though you can sort of see them when it’s overcast,” Wendy Beaufort said. “But at night they’re quite beautiful. We chum around the resort docks in the evenings and watch the light show.
“They tried it with nurse sharks first because they were easier to tag,” Beaufort said. “But nurse sharks tend to just lie on the bottom, and no one’s scared of them, so it was pretty underwhelming. Then Ernesto’s team switched to reef sharks and BAM! things really took off. It makes night dives so much cooler, too.”
Animal rights activists condemned the practice.
“These are completely unnatural and unnecessary acts inflicted on wild animals,” Chrissy Graysby said. “There’s no sound, ethical reason for doing this to sharks. No one has ever been attacked by a shark on Blacktip Island. This is grossly unethical and goes beyond animal cruelty.
“There’s also been no studies of the long-term negative effects this process has on sharks,” Graysby said. “We have no data on whether these injections decrease the sharks’ lives or lessens their ability to hunt. Or of being eaten by other sharks. We’ve called the International the SPCA. They’re sending a team to investigate. If they can get across the borders.”
Island businesses, however, see the glowing sharks as an opportunity.
“Once tourism opens up, these suckers’ll be a hell of a draw,” Club Scuba Doo owner Ham Pilchard said. “The Chamber of Commerce posted some videos online, and they’re already getting a ton of hits. Right now, we’re ramping up getting as many sharks injected as possible.
“We’re primed to be the premier tourist destinations in the Western Hemisphere,” Pilchard said. “No one else has what we have. These glow sharks’ll be the new face of Blacktip Island tourism. Our motto’ll be ‘Blacktip: Island of the Glowing Sharks!’”
In an effort to boost income while tourism is shut down due to COVID border closures, Blacktip Island sporting enthusiasts this week launched an iguana-and-land-crab racing league they hope to market to subscribers worldwide.
“It has everything: it’s a competition, it’s unique and people love a good race,” Rocky Shore said. “Clete Horn’s the one who came up with the idea of having those little, red, baby land crabs ride as jockeys on some of our island iguanas. It’s the novelty of the thing that’ll get folks to subscribe.
“The trick is to piss off the little crabs so they’ll clamp their claws down on an iguana’s back spike,” Shore said. “It’s a tricky balance—you don’t get the crab mad enough, it’ll let go mid-race and you’re disqualified; get it too pissed, it’ll turn on you and give you a nasty pinch.”
Animal rights activists say the races are blatant animal abuse.
“This is not some new sport. It’s textbook animal cruelty,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Harry Pickett said. “They abuse the crabs to get them to clutch the iguanas, then they abuse the iguanas by sticking the crabs on them. Neither crabs nor iguanas asked for this, and all would run away from it if they could.
“There’s no upside,” Pickett said. “There’s no mitigating factors. Quite the opposite. This is a horrific act, all for money and twisted entertainment. At the animals’ expense.”
Some on the small tropical island disagreed.
“Harry and his gang need to lighten up,” Goldie Goby said. “It’s just good fun, and the crabs and iguanas seem to enjoy it. They’re fine afterwards, and there’s no shortage of either on the island.
“You should see those iguanas tearing down the track, with little red crabs hanging on for dear life,” Goby said. “‘Tonio Fletcher’s got a couple of bad-ass iguanas that are beating all comers. No telling what he’s feeding them but they go like scalded . . . well, scalded iguanas.”
Organizers say proceeds have been minimal thus far.
“We’ve put a few races on YouTube to attract attention, build the interest, but we haven’t sold any subscriptions just yet,” Clete Horn said. “But all it takes is that one person seeing it and passing on the word, and we’ll be golden. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re nearly there.”
Island authorities have warned locals against betting on the races.
“As fun as these races are, gambling is still illegal,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “I’ve posted notices, and talked to all the parties involved, warning I will arrest anyone caught placing wagers. I gave ‘Tonio a second, sterner talking-to yesterday when he brought me my winnings.”
The Blacktip Island Community Players Thursday announced the group will perform all four opera’s in Richard Wagner’s ‘Der Ring Des Nibelungen’ cycle in the original German for their annual spring theater fundraising extravaganza.
“We were tired of doing the same old ‘Tora Tora Tora’ and ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ fare,” BICP creative director Doris Blenny said. “As a joke, someone suggested Wagner, and the idea really took off. We couldn’t agree on which opera to do—Das Rheingold is the most accessible, but it’s really just a prelude—so we went ahead and committed to the whole 15-hour epic. It’ll last all spring. If enough people come.
“We’re scouring the dump and the beaches for props and costumes,” Blenny said. “Helen Maples is working with anyone interested on boosting their vocal ranges, and Alison Diesel is giving everyone German lessons. This production will truly showcase the unique talent we have on Blacktip.”
Many in the community said the choice was fitting.
“Operas about heroes fighting gods, then at the end everybody dies and Valhalla gets destroyed?” Corrie Anders said. “Sounds like a standard Saturday night at the Ballyhoo, frankly. I mean, people already call it ‘Brawl-holla. It’s perfect. The horned helmets and spears and whatnot’ll make it even better.”
Others were uncertain.
“When Doris said ‘Wagner’ I thought she meant Robert Wagner,” Stoney Macadam said. “Now I’m really confused. I didn’t know he had a brother, much less that the brother wrote musicals. In German. I’d have studied German if I’d known.”
The cast includes:
Marina DeLow as Wotan
Payne Hanover as Fricka
Hugh Calloway as Siegmund
Jessie Catahoula as Sieglinde
Elena Havens as Siegfried
Lee Helm as Brunhild
Linford Blenny as Alberich
Antonio Fletcher as The Norns
“Had plenty of time to kill, so I figured why not learn some basic, myth-specific German and give it a shot?” Jessie Catahoula said. “Now, none of us can sing worth a damn, but that adds to the rustic appeal. We’re even looking at live streaming it so off-island people can see it.
“What really blows me away is the sheer scope of this production,” Catahoula said. “We’re not just staging a one-hour musical number. This is the biggest opera there is. It’s a definite go big or go home opportunity.”
Blenny hopes the operas will inspire future performers.
“I think the little ones will really like the story and the singing,” she said. “People talk about opera being unapproachable, but I think just the opposite is true. The kiddos should love it. Especially the brass and drums at the end of Götterdämmerung when everyone dies.”
Proceeds of the performances will go to the Blacktip Island chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
Blacktip Island scuba operators are celebrating the lunar new year—the Year of the Ox—for the next two weeks with daily scuba outings with bull sharks on the small Caribbean island’s reefs.
“We wanted to do something ox-related, but we don’t have any cows on the island,” Chamber of Commerce president Jay Valve said. “Then we hit on the idea of diving with bull sharks as the next-best thing. They’re something we definitely have. We’re doing two, three shark outings a day, and no one’s been bit, so we’re hoping this brings good luck in the coming year. People are loving it.
“The trick is getting the sharks to the right dive site at the right time. We’ve had to condition them to some extent,” Valve said. “It’s illegal to chum, so we have swimmers thrash around on the surface. Brings the sharks right in. Small children work best. And we haven’t lost too many. So far. Kids, not sharks.”
Organizers said the celebrations draw on lunar new year traditions worldwide.
“It’s not just a shark dive,” Val Schrader said. “It’s a celebration before and after, too. We serve jiaozi dumplings and spring rolls on the boats going to and from the sites, and underwater we have the divers get in a big dragon suit and weave around the reef.
“We can’t do fireworks, but underwater we have everyone wave their dive lights around like crazy,” Schrader said. “The ox theme’s worked well. Last year was the Year of the Rat, and, boy, did that ever go sideways.”
Scuba retailers emphasized other lunar new year customs.
“We encourage everyone to follow the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ tradition,” Bamboo You owner Piers ‘Doc’ Planck said. “At B.Y., we have a complete line of renewable bamboo scuba gear and accessories. It’s the perfect time to upgrade your gear for 2021. And with the celebration going the full 15 days, there’s plenty of time to shop. There’s no reason to invite bad luck by diving with last year’s gear.”
Island officials, meanwhile, were more focused on public safety.
“Folks see a need to swim with sharks, that’s their business, but on land, anyone setting off firecrackers, or lighting bonfires of any kind, will be summarily arrested,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Anything that booms, bangs or flies through the air is illegal, and fires have been banned. The island’s dry as a tinderbox right now and a stray spark could set the whole place off. You want to get shark bit, knock yourself out, but don’t burn the island down with your silliness.”