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Kinky capelin fish clog traffic in Newfoundland
THE CANADIAN PRESS
First posted: Saturday, July 23, 2016 10:25 AM EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- In eastern Newfoundland, nothing clogs traffic like kinky sex on the beach.
On any given day for the past week or so, hundreds of people have been parking indiscriminately near a small town north of St. John's to get to the annual "capelin roll" -- a sometimes spectacular event that is as unusual as it is unpredictable.
When the tide is high and conditions are just right, tens of thousands of the small, silvery fish start washing ashore on two rocky beaches to spawn, often in a wriggling, writhing mass that can seem biblical in proportions.
The orgy ends when the males die.
"For someone who has never seen it, it's quite phenomenal," said John Kennedy, mayor of Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove. "It's nothing to see 400 to 500 cars down there in an evening."
But most of the people who show up at the beaches at Middle Cove and Outer Cove aren't there just to gawk.
For centuries, locals have been coming to these beaches -- and to several other, more-secluded spots around the province -- to scoop up the fish and bring them home to eat.
Members of the smelt family, these slender, speedy fish are also a favoured catch for humpback and pilot whales, and cod.
"The whales were putting on quite a show (last Thursday)," Kennedy said.
"They will herd the (capelin) into a denser concentration and one will come up with their mouth open and inhale them all at once ... We've had whales almost on the beach, even when there's a pile of people around. You can get quite the fright ... It's quite the show."
The spectacle usually lasts for two or three weeks. So far, the capelin at Middle Cove have rolled ashore in big numbers only once, said Kennedy.
Still, the atmosphere at the beach -- a former provincial park with parking for about 80 vehicles -- is like a pop-up festival, with plenty of campfires, beach blankets and picnic coolers.
In the frigid water, cooled to an icy 6 C by the Labrador current, families gather to capture the swarming fish with dip nets, cast nets, fishing rods, buckets and whatever else they can get their hands on.
"I've seen people with sheets of plastic trying to drag them in," the mayor said. "That's amusing. They'll start off with a bucketful of capelin and end up with two ... People who are out there, up to their waist, it's not comfortable."
The locals usually fry the fish, but some pickle them. Others stick to the old-time method of salting and drying them.
Kennedy, 54, said he can remember coming to Middle Cove as a boy to see capelin piled a metre high. At that time, capelin were so plentiful that some people used them to fertilize their gardens.
Today, there is a commercial fishery that mainly exports capelin roe to Japan, though some of the catch is canned.
And when the capelin start to roll, word travels fast on social media via the Twitter hashtag¥capelinroll2016.
However, traffic congestion near Middle Cove -- the most popular and reliable place to see capelin -- has caused concern for town officials and police.
Vehicles are prohibited from parking on the ocean-side of Marine Drive, but some park there anyway.
"It creates chaos trying to get down there," said Kennedy.
Craig Purchase, a biology professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, says capelin can also be found in the North Pacific, but most of the stocks do not spawn on beaches -- except in a few isolated places along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and in the fiords of Alaska and northern Norway.
"The phenomenon of massive beach spawning is somewhat unique to Newfoundland," said Purchase, whose studies have included tracking the unusual transformation of the male capelin before spawning.
"There's not a lot of other fish that do this," he said, adding that the male of the species grows an enlarged **** fin that he believes is used to dig a trench for the female to lay her eggs.
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