[Terry: if only half of what’s in this story is true, it’s incredible.]
This must have come as a little bit of a surprise, since the nearest ocean, the Indian, is over 400 km away.
The Lowveld is not however, a popular shark-fishing destination. This sort of thing had never happened before and has never happened since. In fact, the Lowveld isn’t well known for its fish at all. With good reason.
There are actually nearly fifty fish living down in the Lowveld. But you are simply almost never aware of them. The water, you see, is just a little on the dirty side. You could park a bright red Sherman tank just one inch below the surface of a Lowveld river, and you wouldn’t be aware of it until you swam into it while desperately trying to get away from a crocodile. And that crocodile should give you a clue as to how many fish there are here.
There are seven permanent rivers in the Kruger Park, the main wildlife area of the Lowveld. In them live several thousand crocodiles. And crocodiles, despite what you see on the Discovery Channel, live mostly of fish, not wildlife documentary hosts. They do pull down the odd land creature, but that’s mostly just the very big ones. And they grow that big on fish.
It’s time for another Lowveld ecosystem post. I have been a little bit slack. I’ve been writing about the Lowveld for over a year now, and I’ve never mentioned the fish. So here goes.
The stupidest fish in the world.
I started off with a shark that had swum further up river than it should have, so let’s carry on in the same vein. I’ve always been fascinated by salmon. We are all so used to the idea of what they do that we don’t stop to think about what a remarkable thing it is. But it really is bizarre. Why? Why would an otherwise perfectly sensible fish, change its shape, give up on that whole eating thing, and leave its perfectly sensible home in the sea to swim up a river, spawn, and die when the sea seems like a perfectly adequate place for all the other fish to spawn and not die?
It would seem, since the salmon’s closest relatives are the trout, that the salmon is a freshwater fish that found it was easier to live in the sea. It just never worked out how to breed there.
No. There are no Salmon in the Lowveld. We do, however, have eels. And eels, like salmon, cannot decide whether to be freshwater fish or sea fish. But they do it the other way around. The eels in the Lowveld are in what is called the feeding stage. They lurk around in that muddy, under-oxygenated water eating crabs and fish for a few years, or indeed decades, until they start to feel an unfamiliar itch. And then they start to swim towards the sea. 400 km away.
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