The Second Most Intelligent Animal
Very recent and oddly compelling findings by the Alternative Oceanographic and Astrological Sciences Society have proven conclusively that the halibut can now be rated the second most intelligent species on earth, trailing the Moravian Blue Gibbon by a mere 1 1/2 points in the standard, multi-species, reductive-parameter i.q. test.
“Administering these tests was not an easy proposition,” states Clyve Derek Withers, spokesman for the Society and an avid fishmonger in his own right. We have joined him and a few hangers out on the the Society’s serviceable, but somewhat odiferous and perennially sinking ketch, Modicum, for a short cruise around their home port, Klitj Harbor, in the Lower Faux Atlantic. This is, of course, the site of their most recent exploits.
“Halibuts are consistently defensive, some would say testy- although i really don’t like that particular word because it reminds me of ‘testicle’- in their moral posture.” He holds up trembling hands to show how many of his swollen, bandaged fingers have been pricked by the spines of bilious halibuts. All of them, as it turns out.
“How you pose certain questions to halibuts in the testing process seems to determine how well they respond. It was hard getting them to cooperate in general, with the fingerlings being particularly recalcitrant”, he adds.
Fishermen and women in Iceland have long been aware that diving into the cold waters of the North Atlantic to converse with marine species has yielded little in the way of new insights into the thinking of either fishes and/or sea cucumbers. Kelp Snarks, for example, act in a skittish and off-putting manner when confronted even indirectly about their mating habits, immediately donning terry cloth fishrobes and clamming up as it were. Clams even more so. But this not the case with the friendlier members of halibut hierarchies.
“Offered a spot of chai and maybe a choco-bite flimsy they become rather affable,” agrees Tonette Smarno, a would be biologist with her own claims to premature grandeur (she is last year’s winner of the Fruity Hangnail Overbite and Toss-Around Competition, scoring over a hundred and sixty one marks in the Ratcheting and Evisceration Trials, before her final elimination due to abnormal- and extremely illegal- chuffing). “For obvious reasons”, she continues wistfully, looking away into the rising offshore blowback, “smelts endure so much undeserved criticism and I for one will not stand for it.” This she certifies readily by sitting down on an unsorted crate of urchin condoms, crossing her bow-legs primly and lighting a Blastov Grey Tobacco Cigarillo.
Her handler and spiritual adviser (some would say ‘ponzi-scheming love-guru’), J. Moresby Dalfruit, formerly of the I.D.E. (Institute for Diminished Expectations), immediately backs her up on these seemingly pointless assertions. That’s his job after all.
“All vertebrates have their hang-ups, foibles and idiosyncrasies,” he avers, squinting his eyes and trembling with undue hostility. “Some xenophobes hate showering with bureaucrats, especially those who swim in the briny, briny deep to get their jollies. They’re the types who have provoked halibuts into non-compliance and caused the friendlier scrods to doubt themselves despite their aristocratic origins”.
The stand-by meteorologist, Little JIm Guernsey, hovers near his post at the starboard gunwale, just aft of the Berkeley-Maelstrom Reverse Obviator [BMRO] that powers the boats underwater loudspeakers. He seems somewhat embarrassed by his colleague’s pedantic posturing and mutters something unintelligible about having ‘to check barometric forewarnings’. As he departs, we notice a thin stream of spittle on his receding chin.
Halibuts, lacking chins, as well as any discernible spittle, prove superior to most other animals, homo sapiens in particular, for this very reason; they neither drool nor act out in an alarming, unpredictable and passive-aggressive manner. With the halibut, it’s pretty much what you smell is who they actually are. This can be verified by spending a few hours with them in their natural habit. Which is like in the ocean. Freshwater halibuts are for the most part dead. You see them floating on the surface of lakes, ponds, reservoirs and in the deeper fountains of many municipal parks, from Eastern Iowa down through the Southern Slope into the fringes of the Rhubarb Belt. Halibut die-offs occur mostly in the springtime, during the autumnal decline, and oft times, just shy of the fortnight approaching Shrove Tuesday, other, more authentic conditions notwithstanding.
Dalfruit is far from finished with his diatribe.
“Did you cretinous, so-called journalists have the slightest inkling that Scrods as well as French Munge Mackerels have exquisite mewing and choral affinities?” He is growing surlier and more incontinent with each sputtered syllable. We step backwards in alarm as he leans menacingly in our specific direction, exhaling lukewarm breath tinged with Mauve Lichen, which he masticates furiously with sideways jaw motions, just before his eyes roll back in his head and he feints dead away. His assistant, Wandelle, immediately throws herself to the deck pulling frantically on her knee hairs.
We decide it’s time to disembark; especially since the boat is foundering and the Greco-Danish stewards have begun inflating life preservers and life-like Sailor Girl Dolls, many of them turning blue with hyperventilation (the Greco-Danes, not the Sailor Girl Dolls). As we walk down the gangplank, a school of Prenatal Snorkminnows rises to the bait and watches us expectantly from the frothy surface below the mottled estuary.
In the basement of the Abnormal Fish Behavior Lab which doubles as the Assorted Mammal Reading Library and Ecclesiastical Day Room, reluctant Spaniard and part-time Lab Supervisor, Diego Cervantes Paloma is awaiting our entrance. He smiles warmly, arms full of week-old Halibut toddlers who seem to have nothing but profound affection for this old Iberian campaigner.
“Look, he cries with a kind of idiot’s delight, “my babies are ready to learn Canasta!”
Little of this makes any sense to us. Are we, we wonder, too cynical to see this more elliptical side of scientific enquiry? Or is there just so much less to this story than meets the naked eye?
The institute’s new majordomo, Sir Ivan Kilmore Flatice, arrives in time to allay our fears.
“No one may leave these premises,” he warns in a mock intelligent growl. “Until… they try my Mungfish Tapioca delight!” We all all laugh skittishly, none with more sturm und drang than Geoff, our engraver and flange-resetter, who has only recently completed his fourth stay in yet another over-priced Anglican behavior rehab.
“Let’s get down to business,” begins Sir Ivan, getting down to business. “We have 40 dross Halibut Embryos that we need to smuggle out of the country (which country he doesn’t say, but we assume he means Slovakia, a state which has had so much trouble in the past with plummeting credibility due to its questionable practices in fish and cattle husbandry. Too many farmers in that blighted region actually are husbands to their livestock. Mutated sheep, cows- even geese- roam the landscape looking for hand-outs and hands that are out).
“Any questions?” asks Willhmina, Sir Ivan’s doughy assistant and cenobitic, ne’er-do-well emanuensis.
Yeah, plenty, actually.
First, we ask, which languages do the halibut adolescents assimilate most readily and then, what kind of schools do they matriculate to?
The answers are surprising (unless you are familiar with this publication’s somewhat sketchy fact-finding and haphazard expository process).
Second, is it not true that Halibuts are born/hatched fluent in Magyar? For years, the unwitting as well as frequent viewers of Fox TV News, have frequented the lesser barrios of Budapest in search of magyar-speaking halibuts and alcoholic nematodes who can lead them on very often ill-fated treks into the Realm of Questionable Outcome (aka Latvia}.
In point of fact, although Halibuts learn new languages up to ten times faster than Lumpfish or Sea Slugs, they are born as witless as any Presbyterian or Baptist organ grinder. It is only when they have become immersed in the “plankton of higher brain development” that they accelerate into little fishy know-it-alls, spouting aphorisms in any number of dialects and tossing about asides and parentheticals left and right in wide and varied arcs of necrotic linguistics. So to speak.
Third, are halibuts closet mammals or just putting on airs? The quasi-verified existence of Furry Blue-Lipped Halibuts in most oceans and in some chinese restaurant aquaria would seem to verify that halibuts, unlike Lesser Scrotum Whales, are indeed mammals. In addition, near-sighted, ‘bung-virgins’ of the lower Peruvian highlands surrounding Costco, seldom braid their armpit hairs or deign to learn bicycling safety signals until they have been lengthily, and some say needlessly, advised by ‘fish wardens’ who are virtually all land-adapted rainbow halibuts. Although offering unbidden and useless advice in areas beyond one’s expertise is a typically mammalian behavior, this only goes a very short way indeed towards reclassifying halibuts as mammals.
PART 2: RETHINKING EVOLUTION JUST FOR THE HALIBUT
“I always thought Arugula was island in the Caribbean…”
(Don’t be Raddichio- ed.)