Anecdotal Part II- The Lobster March


Having written a strong criticism against the evils of anecdotal evidence, I must now do a quick U-turn and speak up again. This time with the exact opposite view, a favorable one.

I am now going to warn both the young folks seeking a PhD. in marine science and their grey bearded professors* who already hold these treasured degrees, not to reject anecdotal evidence too quickly!

Just because no scientist has studied something well enough to be able to write a "peer reviewed" paper on a subject does not mean that some salty old character (who spent his entire life on the water instead of going to college) doesn’t know some "facts" that are still unknown to all the scientists but are absolutely true and correct!

My little apartment, a few blocks south of the Orange Bowl, hosted some great parties for University of Miami football games! Everyone came early enough to find a curb side parking spot that would have soon have been taken by another fan if my friends did not get it first.

To help the time before the kick-off go by, while we waited to walk the 6 or so blocks to the stadium, I would supply cocktails all around. It was a mixed group of scientists, including both professors and graduate students, and professional fishermen, captains and mates from the Hillsboro Inlet charter docks.

Any active biology lab uses lots of ethanol. USP grade (pharmaceutical), it was suitable for alcoholic beverages and very inexpensive. From the gallons of ethanol being used to preserve specimens of fish, eel, squid, clams, crustaceans, plankton and marine worms (you name it, someone studied it), I would liberate a quart or so of ethanol to help stimulate the transmission of knowledge between the members of both groups.

With a well cleaned, glass, multi-gallon vat that I borrowed from the lab and a cut off broom handle (well cleaned) to stir with, I added a dozen small cans of frozen lime aid and orange juice. Next in the vat went the water, the ethanol and ice. Last on the ingredient list, a few hand squeezed oranges and limes that gave a bit of pulp and fresh fruit taste to the concoction. It was potent and tasted great! I had dozens of waterproof paper cups, in those days disposable plastic cups had not been invented. We had the beginnings of a great pre-game and post-game party and the conversations were well lubricated!

A fisherman might ask why a marlin has to swim forward all the time in order to “BREATH”. He would be given a complex but understandable explanation from a professor or grad student. They ALL knew that answer, and in the beginning, some of them felt a bit superior in their knowledge!

One night the conversation turned to Florida Spiny Lobster. Science was aware that there were big concentrations of them at times, and that huge numbers might be caught by trawlers in their nets and in lobster traps. They had heard that the creatures supposedly walked in a line, single file! It sounded crazy but there had never been a real scientist who had seen this and gotten a photo, or painted or sketched an image showing such a bizarre event! It was a bit suspect, to them maybe an "old wives tail."

"OH NO, it’s real!", said the Hillsboro fisherman. They reaffirmed that the lobsters did in fact walk along the sand, head to tail, sometimes in the hundreds.” At times they were in such shallow water the fishermen could catch them in cast nets!! But you had better use one of the new, monofilament nets because it took forever to get them out of an old cast net. They got too tangled up in the multiple stranded fibers of the mesh.

The fishermen had all seen it, every one of them. They loaded their freezers with "Bugs" when they marched and sold what they could not store for their own use. Not only that, they knew what caused it. It was going to happen where they lived and SOON! A passing hurricane could result in a miss but would still create a swell big enough to get the bugs walking!

A few days later Johnny Whitmer called me up at my apartment in Miami. "They started walking today Pete! I saw a couple of strings when I was coming down the beach. I made one throw and got a dozen right in front of the light house. Start there in the morning. Tell the Coast Guard guys you’re my mate if it’s someone you don’t know. I have a morning charter but I’ll meet you at the slip, at noon. Put what you get in the morning in the freezer, you know where the key is."

I promptly called a friend, a fellow student at what was then named The University of Miami Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Science. His name was Bill Hernkind back then, now he is known as Dr. William Hernkind, noted scientist and responsible for running a major research facility for Florida State University.

We met in Miami and took our cars north past Hillsboro to the Boca Raton inlet, where we parked on what was, 50 years ago, a beautiful and nearly deserted beach. There were likely to be fewer onlookers at the Boca Raton inlet which meant better hunting for us.

I expected the Bugs to keep walking north until they reached the rocky seawall on the south side of the inlet funneling them into shallow water and the jetty itself thus giving them something to hide in and under. We were in no more than 7 or 8 feet of water, less than half way to the jetty when I saw the trunk of a palm tree surrounded by lobsters with another single file string of 50 or more just getting there. Bill shot photo after photo of head to tail lobsters "walking". I helped him get quite a few wrapped in moist towels with the remains of our ice water. This kept them cool as he rushed back to Miami.

Bill thanked me and gave me credit in the first paper ever written and the first photos ever taken showing the Florida Spiny Lobster march. It was now a verified and proven scientific FACT! The lobsters that Bill took back and kept in a tank in his lab, did not stop marching for over a month.

After every home Miami football game, both groups of my friends invariably thanked me for the party and told me, "Your friends are really nice, a little strange (or weird) but nice guys and they know some interesting STUFF!!"

I benefited a lot from the many conversations and learned to pay attention to what might be considered "anecdotal" and lacking in significant statistical data.

As my step dad, Bixby Hill, told me over and over, "COUNT THAT DAY LOST IN WHICH YOU LEARN NOTHING." I’ll tell you more about that day in another Logbook entry.

Best Wishes and #GOOD FISHING ~Peter B

*Grey bearded, grey haired, young or old, male, female or undecided.... I’m just painting a picture for PETE’s sake.

#PeterBWright #goodfishing #lobstermarch #hurricanes #fishing #Science

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