…. and even some in the federal fisheries service came to see McHugh as either mesmerized himself, or influenced by those mesmerized, by what was known in government circles as the "Flipper Phenomenon." The affliction was named for the cuddly dolphin star of the television series. Veteran fisheries managers recognized this Flippercosis first by a behavioral aberration; the projection of a mystical innocence, a martyrdom, on the fishes of the sea.
It was the Flipper phenomenon that was responsible, in part, for having slowed the last vestiges of whaling. But beginning in about 1988, the sorrow spread to the lowly fish, a major source of protein to half the world. Thus began a strange and zealous time.
It began in the United States, where, for one thing, fish as food to be hankered after has always been a relatively foreign concept, except on the coasts. A ranking member of the National Marine Fisheries Service once tried to explain the Flipper Phenomenon by theorizing that all peoples live with, in fact need, a shared guilt that defines their culture. Former empires like Spain, Germany, and Japan have a history of conquest, genocide, and conquest-lost to look back upon. For them, fish come guilt-free.
Americans, according to his view, have never lost an empire per se, but spend their regret on the loss of their once-rich natural resources. "All we've got to remember is a huge pile of buffalo skins somewhere" is the way he put it. What he meant, I think, is we've killed more buffalo than Sioux so our guilt naturally flows toward animals.
In any case, Flipperholics appear to be created when ordinary persons catch a glimpse of the huge and growing human appetite and the abatoir of corresponding size, through a crack in their society's homey kitchen door. That is, when they sense there are too many of us. Ultimately they begin bleeding comisery for sacrificed fish, and that's hard to hide....
"All of a sudden, the ladle stops, arm stretched out tight like a fiddle string. Then he can't talk. Well, I knew what he seen. I got up and ran over to the side, and when I did' I seen this big white shark come right lip, and he was lookin on board. The jockey'd sucked him up with this whale meat, aaaargh?
"Nnnnnow, he starts swimmin' around the boat. Whenever this happens, you have organized panic, six people runnin' around in circles hollerin' and screamin'. There was four rennin' around—one guy had a fish on; he still had that porbeagle on—and the mate."
"Then I hollered the worst possible thing over my shoulder as I ran down to the cabin to get the rod-and-reel."
"I hollered, 'Throw him some mackerel'—WRONG—because then everybody grabs mackerel and throws 'em, so now it's rainin' mackerel. I had about 600 pounds of Boston mackerel. So when I come out of the cabin with the rod-and-reel, he's swimmin' around, suckin' up these mackerel, havin' a good ole time. I thought this was good, he's a real hungry fish; won't have any trouble hookin' him. I got the special wire rig out, put a couple mackerel on, threw it over the side, and when I did, he came along and sucked it up."
"When he sucked it up—aaaaaaaaah, I felt like a little kid who just got caught with his hands in the cookie jar. I knew I'd done wrong. How the hell am I gonna catch this fish on rod-and-reel when I don't have any water gain' through my motor, and it's gain' to overheat in 10 minutes? It's goin' to burn up," Frank says. Cricket would not be able to maneuver to help the angler.
"I holler to the mate, 'Don't set the hook. Let him swim around. Don't let him feel anything. Take the rod and follow him around, give him plenty of free spool, don't give him any drag.
"Okay, so now I dived down into the bilge. By this time, I've got about 15 thumbs on each hand, cerebral palsy like you've never seen before. I pick up a wrench off the hatch that's 150 degrees from the sun. Five guys hollerin' and screamin':
"'HERE HE COMES AGAIN LOOK OUT LOOK AT THE SIZE OF HIM..HHHHHOLY SHIT.'
"I'm supposed to concentrate on takin' six or seven bolts out of the motor that hold the pump on. I've got about one turn on the first bolt when the mate hollers, 'HE'S SPIT IT OUT.'
"I says, 'Good—wind it in, don't put it in the water, let me get this pump changed.' Soooo—
"I started to take off the bolts, he made three or four more passes, got the bolts off, got the new pump, and tried to put the new pump on. You had to line up the gears, small gears, just had to get 'em right, or the holes for the bolts wouldn't line up. Back at the dock, in flat calm water, it would probably take 15 or 20 minutes. Out here, with all this excitment, you'd be lucky if you got it in three-quarters of an hour. He'll be gone, I think, he ain't gonna stay that long, anyhow.
"But the party's screamin' GET 'IM, GET 'IM. I says, 'I can't on rod-and-reel cause I gotta do this.' 'We don't care how you get him— harpoon him, anyway you can, GET 'IM.' Okay, we'll harpoon him. So I told the jockey to bring the harpoon from the pulpit. He brings it down and gets everything ready.
"The shark comes sssstraight up the cockpit, straight to the middle of the cockpit, and I was standin' there like Ahab with the stick in my hand, and I drew back and was gonna pop him right stright between the eyes. No, wait, I think. He should turn, you'll have a backbone shot right in the middle. He got close to the boat, made his turn, poyfect, I took the stick and almost scratched it down from his dorsal, down about halfway, and then I come back on it and hit him with both shoulders, the weight of my body, everything, and drove it right home.
"Woooo, he didn't like that one bit, took off towards the bow, the direction he was goin' in. He made half a breach, came half out the water, then headed for the bottom, took off and there went the barrel."
"'Okay, now,' I holler to these guys, 'keep your eyes on the barrel [attached to the harpoon dart], let me know when it starts to disappear. I'll work on the pump, get it straightened out, and then we'll go out there.
"I get two turns on a bolt, and they say the barrel's almost out of sight. I mash on the starter button. We could run a short distance. I ran up to the barrel and shut the engine off real quick and had everybody standin' over the top of the engine fannin' on it and blowin' on it and everything else.
"Okay, back down to the bilge. Again, I tell the guy, 'Let me know when its almost out a sight. In five minutes, it is. I hardly got anything done."
"All right, we run up to it, and on the way up there, I say look, 'We're gonna have to put some more pressure on him; we have to slow him down, or I'm never gonna get that pump changed.' I said, 'There's another harpoon with the barrel and everything, just bring it out, and we'll attach it to that one. We'll have another 400 feet of line, two barrels with 800 feet of line.' We get up to the barrel, and I say, 'Grab the barrel, tie on the other. All right now, here we go' and the one idiot customer takes the box with the line in it and turns the box upside down and makes one giant boy dies nest. We've got 25 feet between the two barrels and all the line tangled.
"All right that was our first booboo. Had to shut off the engine and let the barrels go. Holy Gees, I hardly got another bolt done. Out a sight again. All right, start again and take after him. I say, 'Okay take the rod-and-reel and attach the leader to the last barrel and hang on. Maybe that'll slow him down.' I put two guys up on the bow, one to hold the pole, the other guy to hold him and the pole. I say, 'Let me know when you get low on line.' In three minutes, I get one more bolt. He hollers, 'We're almost out of line.' I mash on the starter and come out on the flyin' bridge. I look at the spool. There's still a half a spool of line. I look up, and the barrels are still right there. I call 'em everything I could think of, including dopey bastids. I figure, as long as I got the motor started, I might as well run up on him. I put it in gear, tell 'em to wind up the slack. I put the barrels under the pulpit, come to a stop, shut it off end tell 'em, 'Don't you dare holler unless you're almost out of line. That thing's gonna overheat, and one time it ain't gonna start.
"All right, I go down, get one more bolt on. They holler and scream, 'We're outa line.' I mash on the starter button, and I'm mad, go up on the flying bridge and look, and they're completely outa line, and one guy is draggin' the other guy toward the bow. They're both tryin' to hold back on the 130-pound test. Before it breaks, I put it in gear— otherwise, we've lost the whole spool a line. Now I'm mad because they waited too long, aaaaargh? They almost cost me a spool a line.
"All right, we done that one or two more times. I got the pump changed and now start up the motor—can't get water. New pump, changed, still no water, the barrels gain' away, come on, we gotta go. Four more times we primed it; finally, we got water. Now we can concentrate on the barrels.
"We picked up the first barrel from the bow. Now we disconnect the other one, put it in the cockpit all tangled up, and I say, 'Untangle it, 'cause we're gonna need it when we get him up.'
"'Pull, you bastids.' Yeah, the party's pullin' like this," Frank says, demonstrating the weakest effort imaginable.
"'C'mon, pull,' I'm screamin'. I almost got the black whip out— bang. The dopey little mate's pullin' the same way, 'Oh, my hands hurt.' Holy shit, so I've got some cussed crew: one guy in the whole batch and he got wore out. 'All right, give me the cussed line. You, ya dumb little bastid, get up on the bridge and run the boat.' 'I never run a boat before,' he says. 'Well, run it now—do it, do what I say, follow the line.'
"Now I pull as hard as I can. I'm gettin' him up as I'm tellin' the jockey how to run the boat and I'm tellin' one of the guys to get the other stick ready 'cause when I get 'im up, I'm gonna have to hesitate a minute, take that other stick and put the second one in him.
"Okay. When I get him up, my arms are comin' out of the sockets. I still gotta throw the stick—bang, I got a good shot. He goes all the way to the bottom. Now there's two lines, two barrels. We have a coffee break, and then we go back. We pick up the barrels—'pull, you bastids'—it took another hour to get him back up. I get the other harpoon ready—hit him with the third one. Down he goes, down with three barrels, three lines.
"I say, 'Grab ahold of the barrels now, and watch what you're doin' 'cause somebody's goin' to get killed.
"'Look out now!' I put the fourth harpoon in him, and down he goes with everything again. I mean, it's really turning into a shithouse mess. Now there's four rigs out, startin' to get tangled up.
"'Okay we're gonna get him next time. I don't care what you guys do—hang on to everything. Take a turn on everything, your neighbor's leg, anything you want, take a turn on something because we're not gonna let him go.' I hit him with the fifth one and scream, 'Everybody hang on.' They're all slidin' around. We got him to the point where, after five hours, he was fairly much tired. When they can't run away any more, they roll. Well, he started to roll, which was in our favor because it was like the Jolly Green Giant. He was all wrapped up in his work, and after we get the tail rope on, we started untyin' all the other stuff."