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English, Foreign Languages and English as a Second Language

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Sea Creatures

Jason Wheeler

Ted lived in a small town on the west coast of Florida, where he worked as a carpenter for a number of years. Upon his retirement, however, he fulfilled his dream of becoming a boat captain. He bought a forty foot shrimpboat and went into the business of supplying bait to a local distributor, who would in turn stock the bait shops in the area. I was his deckhand. While I worked for Ted, I had the opportunity to learn about some of the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.

Shrimp accounted for only a small percentage of the total contents of a typical thirty minute drag of the nets. There would usually be rolling moss, a kind of tumbleweed of the sea. Often, there was some kind of trash that had been thrown overboard by humans, as well as an assortment of sea creatures, ranging from the harmless to the dangerous.

The most benign of these animals were the very small sea horses, cowfish, triggerfish (so named for the shape of the front spine of their dorsal fin), sea urchins, which are golfball-sized, prickly, little things, and squid, which exhibit striking shades of blue, red, and green as they attempt to camouflage themselves.

Sometimes, we would run across a bed of scallops, whose shell is the classic seashell shape that is seen on some gas station signs. Occasionally, there would be a grouper or flounder, either of which, along with the scallops, could be saved for a fresh seafood dinner.

Some of the fish we caught, however, were more aggressive. Dogfish are devilish creatures, about ten inches in length, with ugly bodies, wide mouths, and tiny teeth. They lay motionless on the picking table until one of your fingers got too close. They then clamped down on it so quickly it is startling, and I have flung many of them back into the sea through the air as an instinctive reaction.

Scorpionfish, on the other hand, are quite pretty with colors of red and black but will flop around on the table to face you, the front spine of their dorsal fin pointing forward. If one manages to stick you with that spine, your hand will be numb for hours.

I was always very careful when dealing with a moray eel. It is a snake-like creature with razor sharp teeth and a bad attitude. It rears up like a rattlesnake, baring its teeth and hissing as it looks for a chance to attack. That one is better scraped overboard with something about three feet long.

The two years I spent working on my grandfather's boat gave me an appreciation for the diversity of aquatic life, and they also cured me of any desire to swim in the ocean.

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