Animal Dilemmas – Sea Horse Shrimp
The cloud of shrimp continued on its aimless journey carried by the currents, in search for food and occasionally reduced in numbers by a passing whale with a gaping mouth. The colony grew, for it was lucky never to encounter a fisherman’s net. As it grew it attracted beasty fish of all sizes, the sharks were not late to feed on these fish and the whales passed through sleepily unconcerned with anything smaller than themselves.
The colony traveled mostly in deep waters for the corral reefs were teeming with fish of prey. But at times the sea storms would toss them about and mangle them into the shallows. The colony would struggle to mount the currents which flowed only in deep waters. Many small shrimp would get lost into the seaweed and become a meal for the clownfish and urchins. Many perished but the colony survived unimpressed by gain or loss, always flapping their tails and aiming for the center of the ocean.
Just as it had escaped a cluster of submerged islands the colony entered a patch of murky waters poisoned by the hellish deeds of greedy giants. The poison cloud drifted with the currents and tangled every creature in its way into a deadly grip. The shrimp could not swim away for they were already into the hands of the currents. Many died. The victims were mostly young, small and weak shrimp used to pure waters and light food. Some survived, the storm-beaten, second season adults that could filter out sand and rocks.
They took the poison in, spat out what they could and the rest they lodged into their gut. The colony changed it grew accustomed to pain and poison. It fed more to have the energy to fight its infected gut. The poison didn’t give it rest and the shrimp fed around the clock, hungry to flush the poison out. With the food came growth, the next generation was born large, the following larger. The poison became an integral part of being a shrimp. And few generations later it had been refined into a strength. The last generation was ten times larger than the first and could now eat some beastly fish that used to eat it.
The larger they grew the deeper water they needed and when one storm threw them about and into the reefs many perished. Some survived in clusters and struggled to swim to safety. That was when giant divers took notice and having never seen shrimp so large and powerful caught them in their nets and carried them to shore.
Most captured shrimp perished but one survived the trip to an aquarium as large as a small sea. The giants let it adjust and off it went in the crowded space with creatures from every corner of the ocean enslaved for the entertainment of children. That was where the Shrimp met the Sea Horse.
The Sea Horse was born into the aquarium and often fed with minced shrimp. It hopped about in the water gracefully but without vigor. It didn’t mind because it never knew what it was to live in the vast ocean. It never knew absolute freedom with its dangers and predators keeping it tense and alert. In its aquarium were no beasts but only creatures from its own link of the food chain. The big toothed fish had a separate enclosure.
So the Sea Horse was carefree studying its reflection in the looking glass. It hoped about when giant children tapped the glass and it received a shrimp in return.
When the Shrimp was let into the water it took it days to adjust to the sterile conditions. When its mind cleared it still bumped into the looking glass for days, unable to grasp the limits of this new ocean. There were no predators, only other shrimp, sea horses, clown fish and the like that chased each other frivolously about the giant-made arcades and lined up once a day for feeding time.
The Sea Horse could help it but laugh every time the Shrimp accelerated and bumped into the glass.
‘What is so funny, you don’t want to get out of here!?’
‘Get out of where, this is the world.’
‘The world, this is a drop of the world and we need to go back to the whole world – the ocean.’
‘This is the ocean.’
‘No this is prison. The ocean is boundless and full of sharks.’
‘Sharks, what is that?’
‘Giant fish with big teeth that can eat you in one bite.’
‘Oh, they are a little bigger than clown fish?’
‘A lot bigger!’
‘So if they are that big that means they are heavy and they cannot swim as fast as me?’
‘They can swim faster than anyone!’
‘Oh, in that case I don’t want to go to the world.’
‘But you are in prison!’
‘No, this is home. I am a third generations sea horse born here. And you, why are you so big? Shrimps are small and don’t mind where they are or why. You are larger than me!’
‘I can eat you if I want!’
‘Oh, there is no need for that. Food will be served soon.’
‘You don’t look for your own food?’
‘Sometimes I dig in the dirt to look for left over pieces of shrimp but that is only if a play too much and get hungry. But I don like doing it too often because I get dirt on my nose.’
‘What do you live for?’
‘To eat and play. You?’
‘To eat and escape danger!’
‘There is no danger here. We are safe. Even if the water gets too cold we get together and start shaking like this. And they wake it warmer.’
‘Who is they?’
‘The masters of the ocean.’
‘The ocean doesn’t have masters!’
‘Everything has a master. That is want the clown fish say and they know because they have stripes.’
‘I don’t have a master!’
‘Of course you do.’
‘Who is my master then!?’
‘I think the clownfish would say: my stripes are my master and your stubbornness yours.’
‘I will eat that clownfish!’
‘No, we do not each other here, feed time is soon.’
‘No, I will kill it and let it bloat!’
‘Because it is talking nonsense!’
‘Talking is all we have to entertain ourselves here, well we also have hide and seek, but we mostly talk. So we express our view of the ocean. We joke sometimes. And that is how we get by. You should get used to it. It’s a wonderful life.’
‘I am not getting used to anything! I will kill all clownfish!’
The Shrimp bolted like a barracuda and nipped a clownfish on the back.
‘Hey Shrimp, how are you,’ said the clownfish.
‘No more talking! I will eat you!’
‘But why, feeding time is soon.’
The Shrimp went deaf with anger and charged. But before it could reach the fish a net caught it from above and removed it from the aquarium.
‘The masters are always watching,’ said the clownfish.
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photograph by Ruth Caron