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Walking snakeheads, carnivorous snails, and the superpredator from the reef: The invasion has begun. By Julia Whitty
Les Gibson takes me out to teach me how to hunt, which is what he calls fishing. Despite the fact that every public beach in Queensland, Australia, has been periodically closed this season due to blooms of box jellyfish, and despite the fearsome saltwater crocodiles living here, Les strides confidently into the bay with a pair of 10-foot-long bamboo spears and his wooden woomera, the multipurpose Aboriginal atlatl, or spear-thrower.
When I ask him if he worries about jellyfish, he tells me Aborigines have a cure for the venom. Do scientists know about this cure? I ask. No, he says, they never ask us anything.
We wade waist deep through water as warm as a bath, Les pointing out schools of mullet, schools of goatfish, a stonefish, a pipefish. I'm wearing polarized sunglasses and have spent much of my life peering through water, yet I can't see what Les sees. Deftly as a striking heron, he loads the woomera and tosses a spear through the surface. It disappears, then jerks up, thrashing with the struggles of an impaled mullet. Clubbing the fish with the woomera, he stuffs it in the back pocket of his shorts, so that now we are wading in waist-deep water in prime crocodile and shark habitat leaking fish blood.
In a staccato dance—darting and stopping, tossing the spear, collecting, darting again—Les goes after a blue-spotted lagoon ray and a baby gray reef shark. Somehow he spears the shark intentionally through its pelvic fin, then lifts it to the surface on the tip of one spear and skewers it through the second pelvic fin with his second spear. Thus immobilized, it becomes my combination science-and-culinary lesson, Les pointing out its anatomy while describing favorite recipes. Lesson over, he lets it go, not too much the worse for wear.Read »