Today Blake sold his first 25 baby clownfish to Sea Creatures in Revere. I knew it was going to happen, but I was still sad to see them go. He packed them up in little plastic bags, placed them carefully in a 5-gallon bucket, and then before I was ready to say goodbye they were off.
It’s funny- I know that if we hadn’t stood there in the middle of the night rescuing them with plastic cups and carefully pouring them into the nursery tank, they never would have survived to begin with. That doesn’t change the fact that I want every one of them to end up in a good home with someone who will take care of them. I suppose it’s a little like sending kids off to college– you just have to raise them as best you can, and then cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Every two weeks, like clockwork, the mating pair lays yet another nest of 200-400 eggs. Of that, perhaps 50-100 will survive. That’s still a lot of clown fish! It’s amazing to consider that all of these creatures are so deeply dependent on the attention span of a human for their survival. And yet they seem so relaxed.
Right now, Blake has nearly 400 baby clownfish in his room. At night they clump together in schooling balls of thirty or fifty. Sometimes even in the nursery, things go wrong and baby clownfish die– perhaps during metamorphasis, or right after they’re transferred into a bigger tank. Nature is far crueler than we are, though. They’re not designed to all survive. In the wild, only one out of 100,000 or so makes it to adulthood. The eggs and post-metamorphosed clownfish are immune to anenome stings, but the larvae aren’t, so after the babies are born the host anenome gets an immediate snack. A nutritious sacrifice to the host.
Now and then Blake goes down to Quantico for a Big Dog demonstration, and I get to be the illustrious clownfish babysitter. This is a pleasant opportunity to get familiar with his intricate setup. It’s pretty amazing. In his room four tanks hum, with rows of bubbling bottles and tubes next to them. It looks a lot like a mad scientist’s laboratory. As the babysitter, my job is to feed the zooplankton to the little babies, the phytoplankton to the zooplankton, and the microalgae to the phytoplankton. The medium babies get brine shrimp, which we hatch from eggs daily in bubbling bottles. The biggest babies have already been weaned onto flake food. I grind up the flake food with a mortar and pestle (like human babies, their food has to be mashed up). Last but not least, the babies all like to be read bedtime stories, usually involving robots and outer space.
It’s eye-opening to help replicate even just a few of the infinite biological processes that make up ocean life. It reminds me how complex the earth is, and how everything in nature has a place in the cycle. Birth and death are a lot like function returns, their by-products to be used by other functions in the larger program. A thousand clock cycles is nothing.
The babies, with their large, shiny eyes, think only of the moment. I suppose focusing on the present is an important survival mechanism. Memory is, after all, just another tool in our evolutionary arsenal. An unusually good memory is probably as much of a disadvantage as an unusually bad one. Given nature’s efficiency, I imagine each organism has evolved to store the data it needs to survive: no more and no less.