Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stalking the Wild Parrot Fish

Parrot fish come in a variety of sizes, from minnow-sized baby manahoc (I'm not sure of the spelling here, but it's pronounced mah.NYAH.hahk) to adults up to two feet long. They have beaks like parrots, hence their name. Many closely packed teeth line the outside of their mouths. They use their teeth to wrench away the algae from coral, thereby helping to maintain the reef's health. In the process they also ingest small amounts of the coral which emerges from the other end as sand. That's right. They poop sand. Over the centuries, their gastrointestinal activity helps to maintain the beaches. Think about that the next time you sunbathe on the beach.

Not only do the parrot fish help clean the coral of algae and restore our beaches, they taste wonderful. They have this white flesh that flakes beautifully when barbecued. Their heavy scales blacken and char over the charcoal, protecting the flesh inside. It is a perfect fish to barbecue.

And on Guam the weather is always wonderful. Warm, humid, so your skin and hair are always in great shape, moderated by gentle tradewinds. The water was always clear, always a little warmer than Hawaii's. If visibility was only sixty feet, that was a poor day.

With that kind of weather and water, scuba diving was a natural activity. Once I learned to dive, I took up spear fishing, although I never became any good at it.

One young man from the Trust Territory (I think he was a Palauan) really made me look inept. For equipment, he had a piece of rebar ground down to a point and a rubber thong sandal. That was his Hawaiian sling. For a game bag he had a pillow case. He had goggles so he could see, but no snorkel. Certainly no scuba tank or regulator. I had those plus a two-rubber spear gun, interchangeable barbed and trident heads, game bag. Compared to him I looked like I came from outer space. 

He usually brought in two to three times as many fish as I did. Not to put too fine a point on it, he made me look ridiculous. If I'd had any pride at all, I would have given the whole thing up and played bingo.

I finally did give up spearfishing (although I resisted the lure of bingo) after a stalk on the reef near Gun Beach. I came up on a huge cloud of parrot fish and saw an exceptionally large specimen, totally ignoring me, munching on algae, creating sand. He looked delicious. Slowly, cautiously, I glided through the water exercising all of my guile and skill, moving my fins just enough to give me some forward momentum. Quietly, lethally, I glided through the water. Picture Elmer Fudd “appwoaching the wascaly pawwot fish.”

The trident head was on. Both bands in place. Locked and loaded. Didn't want to lose the big guy. Ready, aim, FIRE.
A huge cloud of mud erupted as parrot fish fled everywhere. GOT him.

But when the mud settled, I didn't have the big guy. I had the little shrimpy guy behind him. He was so tiny my trident head tore him to pieces. There wasn't enough left for a cat snack. Apparently the big guy knew I was there all the time. I just wasn't worth the effort of responding to until I actually fired. Then he dodged my spear and I nailed the little guy behind him.

Eternal vigilance. That's how you get to be a big fish.