Monday, June 13, 2005

Animal of the Week June 13, 2005 -- Dreamtime fish

Hallo Freund der Tiere,

This week's Animal of the Week is Lates calcarifer (barramundi, Asian sea bass). Two fish are called barramundi; to avoid confusion, the other (Cromileptes altivelis) has been rebranded as the barramundi cod by the Fish Names Committee (I kid you not, it's a big thing in Australia). Dreamtime is the period in Australian myth when the world and the creatures on it were formed, and the barramundi features prominently among the legends about this period. Barramundi is an Australian name meaning "river fish with large scales". One story has it that the Giant Dreaming Barramundi Fish, in escaping the hunter Nagongbid, created the East Alligator River (you will, like me, be perplexed as to why there is an "Alligator River" in a country famed for its crocodiles and distinct lack of alligators). In another story, two young lovers called Yungi and Meyalk run away from the tribe so that they can be together as Meyalk is promised to an older man who she doesn't love. This disobedience is an offence punishable by death. Pursued by their tribesmen, the pair escaped into the sea where they transformed into barramundi; the spines on barramundis' backs were created from the spears thrown at Yungi and Meyalk. Barramundi are popular food fish and are farmed across southeast Asia and Australia; earlier this year the Australian Fish Names Committee launched a campaign to ban other nations from using the name barramundi, claiming people were cashing in on an Australian image of the Bush Tucker Man—an image more Paul Hogan than Nagongbid.

After 6 months of weekly updates the animals and I are puffed, so over the next few weeks we're all going to take a couple of breaks. Service will be fortnightly for the next 4 weeks. I apologise for the temporarily misleading nature of the name. Next week, as there will be no animal, you might like to choose your favourite from the past and revisit it.


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