Tuesday, April 13, 2004
A moment of shattering simultaneity between birth-pangs and death-throes, from the essay "Do fish feel pain?", by James Hamilton-Paterson:
The Siki shark, though, seemed more resistant to the shock of being wrenched up from a kilometre below, and several were still thrashing or twitching among the heaps of corpses. One lay on its back almost languidly among the bodies, lolling with the ship's roll. Suddenly, with a convulsive shudder, it gave birth. The baby was about sixteen centimetres long, black, its eyes little luminous beads of the same shade and fluorescent intensity as its dying mother's. Over the next three minutes it was joined by a further five siblings, blindly burrowing among the dead heaps of fish in a hopeless search for the sustaining sea.

Years ago, in California, I once went fishing for surfperch; it was in March or April, when they breed. The struggling fish, dragged through the surf onto the beach, would often give birth (surfperch give birth to live young) as it lay gasping on the sand. Often the young were still-born, born before they were quite ready to emerge. I remembering picking up as many of the fingerling fish as I could, and throwing them back into the surf, only to have them swept back by the next wave.

Did I feel pity for the fish and its ill-fated offspring? Yes. I was eleven or twelve then, my sentiments not reasoned thoughts, but a naïve sympathy for animals and for their perceived (undoubtedly anthropomorphised) suffering. It is not something I am embarrassed about as being childish, but then it is not a sentiment I can now defend via reasoned argument. I do not hunt and fish, because I am uncomfortable about killing animals through my own agency; I do, however, eat meat and fish without a bad conscience. This is perhaps inconistent, but how is it any more possible, or desirable, to rationalise sentiment than to sentimentalise reason?

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