All hail the Halibut

I learned today about the Halibut, from a recent visitor to Grimsby fish market.

Halibut, which are huge great, rather ugly fish, are almost always caught in pairs.

The reason is, so its believed, that Halibut mate for life.

And when one is caught, the other swims into the net with its mate.

The rather unglamorous Halibut doesnt quite have the sex appeal that the swan does.

So it doesnt get the same press.

All hail the Halibut.



I havent been at the computer for a few days, a combination of Easter tide, school holidays and pleasant weather have conspired to keep me from the keyboard. Amongst other things I have been down on the allotment once or twice, which has been very pleasant – Good Friday being the traditional time to start planting potatoes, I have managed to get my First Earlies in, Winstons in case you are interested – here they are arriving on the back of my bike…

My second Earlies (Lady Balfour) have still to go in, I had meant to have put them in already, but time has conspired against me. I’ve also been planting out the strawberries, which have taken up last year’s garlic patch, where they will be happy companions with some self seeded borage. I have cloched some of the strawberry plants in the hope that they will come into fruit a bit earlier.

Another big project has been the beginning of a wildlife pond in one corner of the plot…

At the moment the pond is rather mis-shapen, with steep plastic slopes on each side, I shall have to undermine them a bit to change that landscape. The aim is to have some fairly wild plant growth around the pond, which at the moment looks like nothing more than a large (and unaccountably rectangular) muddy puddle. As you can see, a neighbour has kindly donated a plastic duck… he also donated a few young fish, who I expect to die imminently. Either that or they will grow huge and eat any wildlife which attempt to cohabit with them… sigh.

In the background you will see some of my garlic, 56 plants in total in that bed, which are coming along nicely. Next to them is a boxed off Asparagus bed, I am keeping a close eye on it, but as yet no Asparagus is showing.

Some of the broad beans survived, and I am trying to protect them from pest attack as they are now flowering and should begin to fruit before too long. Rhubarb is springing up all over the place, and we have plenty of herbs on the go now. Seedlings are all over the house at the moment, I’m looking forward to getting them hardened off, this year I plan not to destroy them on the way to the allotment!

the call of the wild

Two interesting meditations on the call of the wild today, first the news that a TV ‘adventurer’ had to be airlifted out of the Canadian wilderness after succumbing to starvation.

Ed Wardle, an outdoors enthusiast, who has previously filmed up Everest and other really extreme places, had been filming a programme for Channel 4, where he attempted to survive in the Yukon with only a camera, rifle and fishing rod. It had been a truly solo expedition, not one of your Bear Grylls jobs, where a team of half a dozen people are camped a few meters from the intrepid explorer. Instead Wardle had to live on his own, hunting for his own food, and leaving messages and tapes for his production crew via a satellite phone and a dead letter box.

Wardle it transpires was not a survival expert, and perhaps had not received suitable training for his ordeal, five weeks before the end of his filming period, he called in a helicopter, having gotten to weak to carry on.

It’s no reflection on him, there are few people who would survive in such a place under such conditions, I know I’m not one of them.

The story is sadly reminiscent of the tragic tale of Christopher McCandless, whose tale is told so beautifully in the film ‘Into the Wild.’ Upon graduation Chris donated his savings to charity, and adopted the life of a vagrant, or vagabond, travelling America in a canoe, on foot, or by hobo railroad. If you havent seen the film, you should, its superb.

McCandless, who adopted the subriquet Alexander Supertramp, ended his life in Alaska, where he was attempting to live a solitary life, armed like Wardle, with only basic provisions. McCandless was motivated by his reading of writers like Jack London and Leo Tolstoy, these and other books have thrilled me too, although I am in no danger of disappearing into the outback, I do love the wild and ‘inhospitable’ places of our country and our planet, and can understand the draw to find one’s own place in them.

Sadly Chris McCandless died after apparently eating a poisonous plant, a mistake that might have not been fatal had he been able to get medical attention.


These same places were home to many of the early monastics, who found in their rugged isolation ‘thin places’ where the veil between heaven and earth was thin. The monastics  and many of the early Christians were people of the margins and the wild places, ironically the church has become the bastion of the centre and the comfortable classes.

The other story catching my eye on this same subject is George Monbiot’s essay on his adventures with a kayak and a fishing rod. Its a lovely piece of writing, painting a fascinating picture of one man’s yearning for the wild and the untamed, and his attempts to live in a way that is at one with nature. I admire and respect him more having read this essay. Once again it chimes with my own desires for a life which includes episodes of wildness, and self sufficiency. The small fishing rod which sits just behind me at this moment, waiting for a chance to be let loose on a quiet stretch of water bears witness to this.

In common with many others I love the risk, adventure, peace, solitude and sense of humanity that an encounter with the wild provides, we all need wildness in our lives, whether that is in a spiritual sense, or an every day sense (what is the difference anyway?)

piratical tales

Today, for your reading pleasure I have two tales of high seas intrigue – the first to do with Whales, and the second to do with Somali pirates.

Let me explain…

Following on from yesterday’s post about sustainable fishing, I was intrigued to read about the adventures of the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin.

As you may already know, whale meat is now banned, as whales have been hunted to the edge of extinction in some parts of the world.  But despite that, the Japanese whaling fleet is still in action, working in the name of ‘scientific research’.  Yep – that justifies shooting whales with grenade tipped harpoons….

So the Steve Irwin has been making a nuisance of itself, shaddowing the fleet, and documenting their activities.  They also get in the way when they can, to stop the killing of whales, and try to blockade the harpoon boats when they try to transfer dead whales to their factory ship for processing.

Naturally the japanese whalers arent keen on this, and yesterday I read a blog post from the ship detailing an amazing battle between the sea shepherd and three whaling ships, here’s an excerpt:

“…A Fin whale was spotted at 1211 Hours. The Steve Irwin launched two fast inflatable boats to head off any attempt to harpoon the whale. The helicopter was launched to film the blocking action.

All three harpoon vessels, the Yushin Maru #1, Yushin Maru #2 and Yushin Maru #3 attacked the Steve Irwin in dangerous passes to foul the Steve Irwin’s propeller.

At 1220 the Yushin Maru #1 was a quarter mile away on the port side and heading directly towards the Steve Irwin. A 2nd harpoon vessel the Yushin Maru #2 was moving in a full speed from the Starboard side. The Yushin Maru # 3 approached rapidly from the stern.

At 1230, the Nisshin Maru aimed the Long Range Acoustical Device (LRAD) [a ‘non lethal’ weapon developed for the military] at helicopter pilot Chris Aultman of California and Animal Planet cameraman Ashley Dunn of Tasmania.

“At first it was just a loud noise,” said  Aultman, “then they turned up the volume and we could feel it in our legs and chest.”

Aultman retreated out of range of the device but was shocked they used it.

“It was extremely irresponsible for the whalers to aim that devise at the helicopter,” said Captain Paul Watson. “They were doing nothing but filming and presented absolutely no threat to the ships. They demonstrated absolutely no regard for human life.”

At this point the harpoon vessels turned on their LRAD and aimed it at the small boats and the Steve Irwin.

This sonic attack was followed by the Nisshin Maru turning into the Steve Irwin and attempting to actually ram the Sea Shepherd vessel at full speed.

Captain Paul Watson ordered the small boats to act like fighter planes in a dog fight. “You’ve got to keep those hunter killer boats off our bow. If they cripple us down here we will be helpless,” he said.

The small boats retaliated by threatening to foul the props of the harpoon vessel.

Steve Roest of the United Kingdom was injured when he became disoriented, dizzy and was knocked down cutting open his head. Ship’s doctor David Miller from Perth sutured the wound with five stitches. Captain Paul Watson received rope burns when he fired a speed line in front of the Yushin Maru #1 to force them to retreat from an attempt to cross the bow with a fouling line.

The whalers jammed the Steve Irwin’s radios and navigational instruments and kept a steady bombardment of the Sea Shepherd crew with the LRAD’s. Captain Watson spent four hours undertaking zigzag and circular maneuvers to avoid the prop fouling.

“The attacks by the three ships became so aggressive we had to fire flares and speed lines over their head to force them to back off,” said Watson.

The small boats also retaliated with rotten butter bombs. The Steve Irwin retrieved both boats and the helicopter by going in tight circles with the three harpoon vessels circling on the outside blasting the crew with LRAD’s and towing fouling lines.

“It was very worrying for us,” said Steve Irwin 1st Officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden. “Our helicopter was almost out of fuel and the whalers were forcing us to keep avoiding them making it difficult for the helicopter to land.”

At 1700 Hours, the harpoon boats backed off and the Steve Irwin resumed the pursuit of the Nisshin Maru. The whaling fleet is once more running before the Steve Irwin heading due South deep into the Ross Sea….”

You can keep up with the increasingly dangerous activities of the Steve Irwin at the Sea Shepherd blog.

On another note, also to do with high seas derring do, an interesting article by Johann Hari looks at the situation facing the Somali pirates who have been in the news so much recently.

What has not been mentioned in the news has been the apparent dumping of nuclear waste in the Somali waters, and the undeclared pirate fishing also in Somali waters.

According to Al Jazeera:  Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, said:  “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there,” he said.

“European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a tonne, where waste disposal costs in Europe are something like $1000 a tonne.

“And the waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.”

The pirates we see and hear about on the news belong to a larger group of sea farers who style themselves as Somalia’s unofficial coast guard.  Clearly many of them are just gangsters on the make, but the bigger picture is an interesting context for their behaviour, and reflects less well on the west which has recently sent gun boats in to protect precious oil cargos.

The same article also gives an interesting reminder that at one time pirates established their own little democratic societies by setting up as pirates, rather than subjecting themselves to the brutal dictatorship of British sea captains.