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Wild Chickens, Feral Cats Join Forces On Blacktip Island

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A wild chicken stands lookout near the Blacktip Island dump Thursday, watching volunteers set a trap for feral cats. Island officials worry the chickens and cats are colluding to take over the small Caribbean island. (photo courtesy of DIAC Images)

Wild chicken and feral cat population increases on northern Blacktip Island, coupled with possible coordination between the species, have many locals concerned about public safety Thursday.

“There’s always been chickens around the airfield, and mangy cats around the dump,” resort owner Elena Havens said. “But nowhere near this many. And they always avoided each other.

“Now, though, we’re eat-up with chickens from the Tale Spinner bar all the way south to, Sandy Bottoms’,” Havens said. “It happened overnight. And now you always see chickens hanging out with cats. Staring you down. Stalking you. It’s not natural.”

The burgeoning populations have negatively impacted local businesses.

“Damn roosters are crowing all night. Guests can’t sleep,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “We got chickens running across the bar. Eating all the popcorn. Pooping on the pool deck. Bookings are down and complaints are up.

“And this is migratory bird season, you know,” Bottoms said. “Bird watchers from all over come here to see the exotic birds. The cats have eaten them all, though. The birds, not the birders. No birds to see now but chickens. My resort’s half-empty.”

Island officials say increased animal numbers poses a health risk.

“We know feral chickens and cats carry transmittable diseases,” public health chief Herring Frye said. “But every time we try to catch a cat to study, the chickens swarm all over us, and vice versa. It’s like a bad horror movie.

“These two species are normally enemies,” Frye said. “If they’re in cahoots, the worry is they’ll take over the entire island, potentially make it uninhabitable for humans.”

Locals echoed that sentiment.

“We’ve tried to cull their numbers, but the critters seem to know when we’re coming. And what kinds of traps we set,” Rocky Shore said. “Either they’re all smarter than us, or they’re working together.”

“When we were setting cat traps at the dump, you should’ve heard all the clucking and crowing,” Molly Miller said. “Then the hens charged us. There were feathers flying everywhere. I didn’t know there were that many chickens on the island.

“There’s been some ugly incidents with tourists, too,” Miller said. “A bunch of them got their heads pecked outside the store. And a bunch of cats blocked the airstrip yesterday. The plane couldn’t land, but it was fun watching people trying to herd them off the tarmac.”

Some locals spun the situation as positive.

“All I know is the rat population is way down,” said Lee Helm said. “I reckon that’s the chickens’ motivation: with the rats in decline, they get a bigger share of food at the dump. And in peoples’ kitchens.”

Others are fighting back.

“We got coq au vin on the nightly dinner menu now,” Sandy Bottoms said. “And folks with lionfish spears chasing down roosters morning, noon and night.”

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Trained Groupers To Patrol Blacktip Island’s Coast

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A Nassau grouper stands guard on Blacktip Island’s Pinnacle Reef Thursday. A plan by the Tiperon Islands Defense Enterprise would surround the island with specially-trained grouper to warn of any impending invasion. (photo courtesy of lowjumpingfrog)

Following last week’s news that a Blacktip Island divemaster had trained a Nassau grouper to add and subtract, the Tiperon Islands Defense Enterprise announced Thursday it plans to train grouper to help guard the Tiperons from possible foreign attacks.

“If this grouper thing checks out, and I think it will, we could have the makings of a offshore early warning system,” TIDE head MacArthur Wrasse said. “They’ll be our eyes and ears on the reef, able to tell us how many bad guys are coming and from what direction.

“We’re calling it our ‘Grouper Wall,’” Wrasse said. “First order of business is getting this Hoase fellow a security clearance. We’ll need clearances for the fish, too, pronto, so we can get the defense system operational asap.”

Grouper training for all the islands will take place on Blacktip, officials said.

“Blacktip’s isolation’ll help keep the training details as under wraps as possible,” TIDE deputy chief Harry Blenny said. “Blacktip’s small, slow-paced and backwards, like most of its residents. Any off-islanders show up and start poking around, we’ll know straight away.”

Island officials welcomed the news.

“We’ll all sleep a little sounder knowing there’s someone on guard,” said island mayor Jack Cobia. “Security on that scale has been sadly lacking for a long time, what with there being no standing military in the Tiperons.

“On Blacktip all we have is the island constable and a volunteer defense force that does occasional patrols, but that’s about it,” Cobia said. “Frankly, the Blacktip Force for Defense is more of an excuse to hang out and drink beer. Groupers don’t drink. That’s a plus right there.”

Not all residents were happy with the idea.

“They’re talking about weaponizing fish. In a marine park,” Blacktip People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Harry Pickett said. “Plus, there’s a 2,000-foot wall that drops off 100 yards offshore. How much early warning will the groupers actually give? It’s more like telling us who’s at the door.

“Bigger picture, the program’s a blatant scam for government funding,” Pickett said. “Who, exactly, is going to attack us? There’ve been zero invasions in the island’s history. Unless you count tourists.”

BFD officials called that attitude naïve.

“It only takes one time, you know,” said Antonio Fletcher, BFD sergeant-at-arms. “Not many enemies now, sure, but you can’t be too careful. Cuba’s close by. And Belize. Things change. And The Sight can’t pick up everything.”

“Groupers watching the coast makes good sense – they know the sea better than any of us,” Fletcher said. “Plus, they’re naturally suspicious. They know when something’s fishy or doesn’t smell right.”

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Blacktip Island Divemaster Trains Grouper To Do Math

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Eagle Ray Divers guest Juanita Cerf poses an arithmetic question to Bernie the Nassau grouper on Blacktip Island’s Hammerhead Reef Thursday. (photo courtesy of Grady Cerf)

A Blacktip Island divemaster has taught a Nassau grouper to do basic arithmetic to entertain dive guests, the Caribbean island’s Eagle Ray Cove resort announced Wednesday.

“Gage Hoase’d been messing with that grouper at Hammerhead Reef for ages. Bernie, the one who likes to be petted,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “We had no idea what Gage was up to until he had the fish add and subtract for guests during a dive.

“Nassaus are smart, on the fish scale, but this blew us away,” Latner said. “Divers can ask Bernie math questions, and the damn fish’ll answer back. Correctly. Our boats are packed, and we’re diving Hammerhead two, three times a day.”

Hoase said Bernie’s skill came about by chance.

“He’s a friendly fish, always interested in what I was doing,” he said. “One day I was counting divers on my fingers and I noticed him bobbing his head in time with my counting.

“I held up four fingers on each hand and he nodded eight times,” Hoase said. “From there it was a natural jump to writing math problems for him on an underwater slate.”

Dive guests raved about their encounters.

“I asked Bernie what seven plus nine was and that little dickens answered right!” said Eagle Ray Cove guest Kenny Bloate. “He bobs his head for single digits and shakes it side-to-side for larger numbers: one shake and six nods equaled 16! They charge extra for the dive, but it’s worth it.”

Other divers were skeptical at first.

“I thought it was BS, then I put Bernie through his paces,” Juanita Cerf said. “I even gave him a problem with a negative number as the answer and he turned 180 degrees and counted it right out.”

The island’s scientific community remains dubious.

“We dived Hammerhead Reef without any Eagle Ray Dive staff present and found the fish to be curious, but otherwise untalented,” Tiperon University-Blacktip marine biology chair Goby Graysby said. “Our working hypothesis is Mr. Hoase is signaling to the fish.

“That’s not to say Gage’s work isn’t impressive,” Graysby added. “To train a grouper to respond to signals is unusual. But the fish can’t perform arithmetic.”

Hoase rebuffed Graysby’s claim.

“It’s a game for Bernie. If he doesn’t like you, he won’t play,” Hoase said. “And fish learning is more common that you think. A woman on Barbados taught a parrotfish to tell time. And a humphead wrasse in Palau can spell. In Latin and Cryrillic scripts. It’s working on kanji characters, too, but so far is only up to emojis.

“The next step for Bernie is quadratic equations,” Hoase said. “He understands them, but we haven’t worked out a system for him to communicate anything like ‘x=y+2’. It’ll probably involve barrel sponges.”

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Blacktip Island Thespian Injured In Rehearsal Mishap

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Part of Antonio Fletcher’s costume for the upcoming Blacktip Island Community Players spring production. The costume was destroyed by medical professionals treating Fletcher’s injuries after Fletcher fell from the roof of his house. (photo courtesy of Eric Kilby)

Blacktip Island Community Players actor Antonio Fletcher is resting in stable condition Friday after falling from his roof while practicing for an upcoming BICP production.

“‘Tonio was balanced on the roof beam of his place, dressed in some kind of squid costume and singing about rising from the deep,” neighbor Hugh Calloway said. “We yelled for him to come down, and next thing we knew he lost his footing, slid down the metal sheeting and fell two stories.

“A clump of sea grapes broke his fall, but I think it was the booze that saved him,” Calloway said. “He was so lit on white rum he was pretty much limp when he hit the ground. That fall would’ve killed a sober person.”

Medical personnel were slowed in treating Fletcher due to his elaborate costume.

“Mr. Fletcher was wearing layers of blue and black taffeta, which had to be cut away before we could assess his injuries,” nurse Marissa Goby said. “And then there were the canned octopus tentacles sticking out his mouth and nostrils. We thought it was the remains of a recent mean, but apparently that was part of the costume.”

A BICP spokesperson confirmed Fletcher’s injuries were theater related.

“Our Easter production is a comic-horror musical titled ‘Cthulu on the Roof.’ Antonio was the lead,” said director Doris Blenny. “We had hoped to keep the costume a secret until Cthulu’s grand stage entrance in Act Three.

“Now that the costume has been cut to pieces, and so many have seen it, we’ll have to come up with a completely different costume to ensure proper dramatic effect,” Blenny said. “And a proper bass-baritone as well, should Antonio fail to fully recover.”

Local religious leaders say the incident was no accident.

“Hand of God is what it was, slapping ‘Tonio down for glorifying a pagan deity,” the Reverend Pierre Grunt said. “Especially for an Easter performance. We’ll be picketing the play, and as much as legally possible, blocking access to the Heritage House during its performance.”

Grunt’s protest found unexpected allies among the island’s Cthulu adherents.

“The Lord of R’yleh is nothing to be joked about or mocked,” said longtime resident Kay Valve. “Say his name too often, or show disrespect, that’s just the sort of thing that’ll wake him.

“Antonio was lucky. We all were,” Valve said. “Call it divine providence if you want, but that fall may have saved us all from being eaten alive.”

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Blacktip Island Motorist Gets Award For Turn Signal Use

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A screen grab from Blacktip Island resident Cori Anders’ cell-phone video showing James Connlee’s activated turn signal Wednesday evening. Conlee was awarded the Tiperon Islands Safety Commendation Medal for his action. (photo courtesy of Cori Anders)

A longtime Blacktip Island resident was awarded the Tiperon Islands Safety Commendation Medal Wednesday after it was confirmed he was the first island motorist to use a turn signal.

“I was gobsmacked,” said witness Cori Anders, who videoed the incident with her cell phone. “It happened right in front of Sandy Bottoms. A dozen of us were there. No one had ever seen anything like it on Blacktip. It took a moment to sink in.

“James Conlee had to wait for a big Skerritt Construction truck to pass by before he turned into the car park for happy hour,” Anders said. “I suppose he got bored and reckoned he’d fiddle with the signal lever. He apologized afterwards.”

Authorities awarded the medal to send a positive reinforcement to the community.

“We want to encourage this kind of thing on the part of all residents,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Especially with the increasing number of cars on the island and the busy spring tourist season approaching.”

Many on the small Caribbean island were stunned by Conlee’s action.

“All island cars have turn indicators, but no one uses them,” resident Payne Hanover said. “There’s two roads and a half-dozen parking lots. Why bother?

“Sometimes people hit their indicator out of habit, but the wiring’s usually toast, or they have burned out bulbs. The store doesn’t even carry replacements. There’s no market for them. James got caught up in the perfect storm of flipping a switch and having it actually work.”

Some residents see the award as a slippery slope.

“What do we need with turn signals?” B.C. Flote said. “Since day one, folks’ve made unannounced turns whenever they wanted, and no harm done. Now, people start using turn signals, the next thing you know, Rafe’ll be handing out seatbelt fines and speeding tickets. It’s another sign this island’s getting too crowded.”

Conlee said he didn’t deserve the commendation.

“Not right, like I’m a hero or anything,” he said. “Just did what anyone would’ve done if they’d been in that situation after drinking all day. Blame it on the rum, you know?”

After the award ceremony, Conlee was fined for not registering the 1987 Toyota Corolla since 2013. The vehicle failed a subsequent safety inspection for roadworthiness and was towed to the island’s landfill.

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Ground Eel Population Explosion Terrorizes Blacktip Island

ground eels

A Blacktip Island ground eel crawls past a game camera in a Blacktip Island mahogany grove Thursday evening. A sudden uptick in eel numbers has the Caribbean island’s tourism industry concerned about their impact on hotel bookings. (photo courtesy of Blacktip Island Chamber of Commerce)

A surge in the Blacktip Island ground eel population has island residents on edge and guests panicking this week, causing local businesses to scramble for ways to combat the creatures.

“Ground eels are incredibly rare. We know little about them,” said Goby Graysby, marine biology chairman at Tiperon University-Blacktip. “They’re akin to aquatic morays, but adapted to breath air. This is the first time there’s been a population explosion like this, and we have no idea what caused it.

“The problem is, they’re slimy, they’re smelly and they get into everything. And now there’s a ton of them,” Graysby said. “They’re like hagfish on steroids and can wiggle under doors, down vents and up toilets. They’re normally a solitary species, but in numbers this large, apparently, they can be problematic.”

Island hoteliers say the creatures are wreaking havoc among tourists.

“The eels love sunscreen. And hair gel,” said Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort manager Kay Valve. “They gobble the stuff up and look for more. Most locals don’t use that crap, so for us it’s not so bad. Resort guests, though, they can’t sleep or eat or even sit by the pool and read.

“God help you if you have sunscreen on you,” Valve said. “Yesterday a swarm of eels got on one of our docked dive boats and gnawed everyone raw. We have guests cancelling left and right. And the sunburns have been horrific.”

Departing visitors at the island’s airstrip agreed.

“We expected mosquitos and flies and ants and scorpions, but these eels threw us one hell of a curveball,” said Eagle Ray Cove guest Harry Blenny. “They wormed into our room last night and ate everything in my Dopp kit. And what they did to my wife’s hair while she was sleeping! We had to shave it all off. We’re leaving and never coming back!”

Some locals say the problem is a decline in the eels’ natural predator.

“The mersquatch usually keeps them in check,” said longtime resident Molly Miller. “What we need is a second mersquatch. Or a livelier one.”

The Chamber of Commerce has declared an island-wide state of emergency.

“We put a bounty out on the suckers,” Mayor Jack Cobia said. “Problem is, they’re damned hard to catch, or kill, because they’re so slimy. And nocturnal.

“We got teams in headlamps hunting them with sticks and machetes and golf clubs, but those eels’re damned savvy,” Cobia said. “Shine a light on them, they slither off right quick, leave you clubbing slime trails.”

Island scientists, meanwhile, hope to capture some of the elusive creatures for study.

“We keep setting traps, but the eels can get out of about anything,” Graysby said. “And the few we have caught slip out of any container we put them in. Mason jar with holes punched in it for air? They’ll screw the top off from the inside – they generate that much torque.”

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Hungry Land Crabs Ruin Blacktip Island New Year’s Festivities

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A land crab explodes at Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort’s outdoor bar Sunday evening. The crabs ruined the Blacktip Island New Year’s fireworks extravaganza when they ate the Caribbean island’s store of pyrotechnics. (photo courtesy of Marina DeLow)

Blacktip Island residents and visitors celebrated New Year’s Eve without a firework display Sunday night after it was discovered land crabs had destroyed the stored pyrotechnics days earlier, officials said.

“We went to get the mortars and launch tubes and whatnot from the shed and found nothing but shredded cardboard tubes,” Blacktip Island Commission for the Holidays chair Jay Valve said. “All the powder inside the tubes was gone.

“We thought it was maybe kids, but kids’d have just shot everything off, not destroyed them,” Valve said. “Some people blamed PETA, thinking they’d done it to protect household pets. Turns out, it was stranger than that.”

Officials did not discover the true culprit until later that night.

“We were still scratching our heads about it, then James Conlee flicked a cigarette butt at a crab on the bar deck and, BOOM!, red and blue starbursts shot everywhere,” BICH safety officer Marlin Bleu said.

“It was like a box of Roman candles exploded,” Bleu said. “Knocked a half-dozen guests off their bar stools. I’m not sure they realized it, though.”

Scientists say negative wildlife interactions with the island’s human residents is rare, but not unheard of.

“We’ve had iguanas knock out power island-wide,” Tiperon University-Blacktip wildlife management professor Christina Mojarra said. “We’ve had the mersquatch pee in all the cisterns. But we’ve never seen anything like this.

“Land crabs will eat anything – rotted food, soap, ant bait – all without any ill effects,” Mojarra said. “I wouldn’t have thought they would find explosives tasty, but if they can eat fertilizer, I guess anything’s possible.”

Authorities have warned residents to keep open flames away from the island’s crabs until the explosives can metabolize out of them.

“There’s no telling how long it’ll take before the crabs are non-explosive,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “We’re working with biologists to estimate a safety window, but it’s all trial-and-error guesswork at this point.

“You can tell which crabs ate fireworks because their shells kind of glow at night,” Marquette said. “Like the northern lights, but with legs and claws. We hope the colors will fade as the explosives wear off.”

Many residents put a positive spin on the events.

“The crabs may have been a New Year’s Grinch, but we had a good time anyway,” resident Ginger Bass said. “The kiddos chased the smaller crabs around with sparklers to set them off. Some shrubbery around the resort got scorched, but it created a festive mood. And little Shelly Bottoms’ eyebrows should grow back just fine.”

Others were happy crabs had eaten explosives.

“Gives them a nice flavor,” resident Dermott Bottoms said. “Gotta steam them slow, and handle the meat gentle, but it makes a fine extra-spicy crabmeat salad. Gonna miss them when they’re gone.”

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