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Monday, April 24, 2006
$20 a gram sounded pretty good to me; my output is something like 5 kg a day. I scooped up the prize, dumped it into the pool just a way from the heat vent, cordoned it off with a seaweed fence, swished it around a bit as if I were preparing a mess of spaghetti then left it to bake. Ten years later and the fecal mess is ready. Grey amber, floating gold, call it what you will, my DIY ambergris knock-off will put me on par with the sperm whales.The incriminating evidence is there. Hairy lobsters never learned that anything they put on a blog becomes public information. It was only a matter of time before they got slapped with a lawsuit.
The motive, as I can gather after perusing the blog of the recently discovered yeti crab - or Kiwa Hirsuta - is the desire to be useful. It isn't enough for a lobster to be hairy, albino and musical these days. A lobster needs skills, talents, something marketable.
Remember how in the pig movie, Babe, Fernando the duck took up crowing at the break of dawn in an effort to be an animal with a job? The lobsters were under the same pressure.
Rumour has it that, soon after they were discovered in the 80s, their French discoverers made a meal of the initial victim, Margaret Hirsuta.
Forsaken by their namesake, Polynesian goddess Kiwa¹, patron of crustaceans, the lobsters knew that soon bored Japanese salarymen and nouveau riche Chinese socialites would mark them for the pot. Next thing you know, some curious redneck is going to troll off the American coast for them. Humans became aspects of the all-devouring god of death, Auraka. It was only a matter of time and the lobsters knew they had to act fast.
We knew their PR faction worked overtime on the plush toys. Just like the reversal of the great white shark smear campaign, when tiger and lemon sharks joined forces with some of nature's most reviled carnivores to bombard the toy market with loveable softies that swung public opinion and induced thousands of former beachgoers to return to the shores, the lobsters thought they could convince youngsters to go vegetarian for once and for all.
Perhaps the public had their fill of marine fauna collectables, perhaps the growing pro-vulture movement overshadowed the plight of Kiwa Hirsuta, or perhaps it was simply a case of anti-Darwin forces refusing to bow down to beliefs that fundamentalist pastors evolved from the velvet-clawed deepsea lobsters. Whatever it was, the lobsters never made it onto the endangered or even the threatened species list and millions of gourmands added the creatures to their to-eat checklist.
When the lobsters launched their We Were Just Discovered - We Might Be Pharmaceutically Useful Campaign, the Bush administration declined to negotiate.²
Furthermore, a growing pro-lobster-boiling lobby, concerned about avian flu and bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the most popular protein sources of the day, pressured Washington into signing the Freedom to Eat Whatever We Damn Well Please Even If It's Endangered Amendment. Using the aborigine traditional loophole, this controversial Twenty-Ninth Amendment obscured the so-called One-Man-Multiple-Wife Amendment, pushed through by fringe Mormon groups.
Conspiracy theorists would have us believe that the pro-lobster-boiling lobbyists came from the ranks of the poultry and cattle industries, eager to diversify into safer animal food sources to quell the growing fears of the public as well as to circumvent measures taken to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the US workforce. (The theory goes that, deepsea harvesting around hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor requires fishing crews to work far from shore, in international waters and hence in areas outside of legal jurisdiction. Trawlers supposedly recruit along Mexico's coast, with would-be refugees never setting foot on US soil and thus not threatening the country's fragile security.)
Without any US protection and the knife-sharpening in the East, the lobsters knew their case would fail before the UN body.
The lobster group splintered into factions, with some, like celebrity Johnny Hirsuta, auditioning for the popular off-Broadway all-crustacean musicals. Banking on the popularity of the term "Yeti Crab," Samantha Hirsuta auditioned for and garnered the abominable snowman role in Disneyland's Matterhorn Mountain attraction, the first time a non-bipedal won the coveted position.
The fame of the former and the household recognition of the latter, however, did little to improve the lot of the vast majority of the lobsters.
This is where my department comes in.
The Great White Whale called. Or rather, his lawyer called. Copyright infringement. Moby's team were threatening to sue the lobsters. But they needed absolute proof first.
With all the poo floating around in the world's oceans, no one could be absolutely certain that Moby's caca was the real deal. Some knock-offs in Hong Kong night markets fooled even the best of fecal appraisers.
Ambergris is usually waxy, with a powdery coating. It's white, grey or brown, but if it's black, it's fresh, soft as licorice, probably containing squid ink, and without the musky forest floor smell as perfected in the grey and white varieties. I've tested ambergris in the field with simply a needle, heated with a lighter: the real stuff melts into a black liquid and you can smell the musk in the smoke. With poo, it just gets your hands dirty and it smells like shit.
The sperm whales, threatened with removal from the endangered species list themselves and a failing International Whaling Commission whaling moratorium, concocted the Ambergris Excuse. Case studies of civets marketing their poo, instead of the more painfully extracted musk, as coffee led the sperm whales to approach their predicament from the excrement angle.
The Ambergris Excuse is so-called because, armed with a patent on their process and a copyright on the intellectual property (as sculpture), sperm whale lobbyists countered renewed whale hunts with cries of "But wouldn't you rather have ambergris?"
The nascent American whaling industry, which had hitherto hibernated in New England tourist meccas, switched to perfume manufacturing and, thanks to celebrity fragrances, were able to wrest control of the global industry from the French. Even renegade Icelandic and Norwegian whalers gave up actually killing the whales to instead massage the poo out of their digestive tracts.³
The threat to the multimillion dollar industry from the upstart lobsters proved to be greater than originally imagined.
The whales originally turned a blind eye on the poo ranches; the finished product was of green-black consistency, dissolved in the hand and, worse, smelled like lobster poo.
However, Kiwa Hirsuta lobster researchers put stringent quality controls on their poo. They corralled their excrement in fenced-off units near their hydrothermal vents. They changed their diets to eat squid (with the establishment of a whole sub-industry of giant squid hunting lobsters).
The new and improved poo also benefitted from sperm whale poo harvesting. Whereas sperm whales once pooed wherever they pleased, not giving much thought to where their poo went after defecation, the lobsters soon began sending upmersibles to the surface of the ocean to collect the windfall. Combining lobster poo with sperm whale poo in a secret recipe, the yeti lobsters were able to approximate real ambergris and flooded the New York markets.
Things came to a head when Brittney Spears' new fragrance, Intense Labour, was reported to smell "like caca" after a few hours on the wearer.
Moby Dick, celebrity spokesman for Ahab Manufacturing, the main body of the sperm whale ambergris industry, held a press conference after a week of ambergris backlashes. The source of the rumours was traced to a lot manufactured with questionable ambergris.
A cursory Google search turned up one of the poo ranchers' blogs and, issued with a search warrant, I and two other intellectual property officers made our way to the mid-Atlantic. We were able to trace the address from internet records; presumably the lobsters had been using the old Newfoundland-Ireland telegraph cable of 1857. These yeti lobsters proved that they are small-time crooks, out for a quick buck.
When we got there, the lobsters were gone. We photographed the evidence: thousands of pounds of ambergris, already packaged and ready for transport. Then we confisacted the lot. It will be destroyed.
I figure that the Kiwa Hirsuta got whiff of our coming from an informer. Could have been anyone undersea. You can't really trust the fishes. Maybe a disgruntled mollusc. Human-coral relations have been going downhill for years now. Whoever or whatever it was that tipped off the crustacean bastards, they disappeared without a trace.
Back-up from the CIA went door-to-door, asking the denizens of the deep if they'd seen the lobsters. No one even remembers there ever having been lobsters in their neighbourhood. Until there's a good Homeland Security system underwater, we'll never win in this war against copyright infringement.
¹Who probably doesn't exist anyhow.
²An anonymous leak had it that researchers had already plundered enough of global indigenous plantlife to cure all of humanity's ills. They were taking their time in parcelling out the panaceas, according to a schedule decided upon by drug companies and secretly ratified by the president.
³The symbiosis of human whaler and sperm whale was also responsible for the bluegrass hit "Her Baleen Almost Sucked Me In" (a mistranslation of the Norse "The Colonic Irrigation Almost Sucked Me Into Her Asshole," referring, of course, to the clysters used in the industry).
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