February 17, 2013
Tribute to the Giant Sea Bass
My friend Sergio Fainsztein recently posted an underwater photograph of a giant sea bass off La Jolla Cove, San Diego, on his Facebook page. The photograph reminded me of an incident that happened in 1958, when I was ten years old. We were on the beach at Casa Cove, a short distance from where the photo Fainsztein shared was taken.
“It looks like they’re towing something,” I shouted from my windy vantage point at the top of the seawall. Seconds later, I was pummeled with spray from a crashing wave. I jumped down from the wall and raced my brother and Timmy McCoy to the water’s edge. The two spearfishermen had finally made it inside the cove, but were still struggling to reach shallow water with whatever it was they had in tow. Holding a speargun in one hand, the lead swimmer was pulling on the tow line with the other and kicking frantically. His partner was engaged in a sidestroke, submerging himself in the foamy surf each time he lurched forward. Every time a wave reached shore and retreated, an enormous dark gray object bobbed to the surface.
“It’s huge!” shouted Timmy, as Bernie McCoy walked up behind us. Exhausted, the two spearfishermen finally touched bottom and sloshed their way toward shore. Now at a depth of three feet, an enormous, deep-bodied fish was exposed, floating motionless in the foamy water. “That’s a black sea bass,” announced my dad. The sight of such a magnificent animal was almost more than my excited heart could handle—its tail the size of a garbage can lid, its cavernous jaws falling open with each outgoing wave. I heard Bernie McCoy say that the enormous grouper must have weighed five or six hundred pounds. Too large to carry, we watched several men drag the colossal fish across the beach and up the hill to a waiting car.
For the rest of the day, I felt sad that such a magnificent creature had been killed and removed from the ocean. An extreme sense of awe and appreciation still comes over me every time I experience one of nature’s works of art—a spouting whale, a hummingbird or even a wildflower. How do you explain that to someone who sees such an animal as nothing but a big fish?
I later learned that giant sea bass were inquisitive and easy targets for spearfishermen, so much so that they almost disappeared from California’s coastal waters. Although currently protected by California law, massive specimens like the one I saw as a boy are seldom, if ever, seen.