Monday, October 12, 2015

Sex and the Single Sea Hare

At one point during our kayak adventure this past Saturday, Kim, the tour leader and owner of Blue Water Ventures, pulled a sea hare out of the Monterey Bay, in a swirl of reddish-purple ink that the mollusks, also known as sea slugs, release when disturbed.

Kim wanted to hand over the hare to us, to hold the swine-like creature and marvel in its slime covered body. Kim explained that the sea hare had been mating. 

The sea hare was cool to the touch, with two protruding tentacles and a flap below them that is the nose. Sea hares are hermaphrodites, which means they act as male and female when mating. Kim said the sea hare she found was actually coupling with another species.

"Inter-species mating?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"That's pretty major," I said.

And then it hit me. While our lone sea hare, our cuddly slug of a marine animal, that is so filled with toxins because of all the algae it consumes it has very few predators, was possibly engaged in a highly significant act of evolution, we ripped it from its water bed of reproduction so we could essentially fondle it.

Imagine, Tricia and I said to each other later, if we were cuddling on the couch and all of a sudden a hand swept down and yanked one of us from the cozy confines of intimacy and started stroking our hair or caressing our arms. Kind of like the creepy Twilight Zone episode, Stopover in a Quiet Town, where a couple, wakes up to find themselves in an unfamiliar neighborhood that is basically filled with props; nothing is real. It turns out that they were just human dolls who were part of larger child's world.

I wonder if that is how, on some level, the sea hare felt. No matter how gentle we were (and Maya dropped the hare and it plopped on the bottom of the kayak near her seat), we were still poking and prodding and rubbing and touching this utterly fascinating creature.

And we were doing it while this particular sea hare had been in the act of sexual reproduction. Sea hare mating can last anywhere from several hours to a few days. A few days! This sea hare was quite possibly in the middle of an act so naturally profound before it was violated so the kayak tourists could experience marine life up close and personal.

One sea hare actually laid roughly 500 million eggs over a five month period during 27 separate acts of copulation. However, one sea hare in isolation for three to four months was able to lay eggs without mating, though these eggs were unfertilized.

I'd like to say I feel guilty for my intrusive actions, but there I was posing for a picture with the sea hare, holding it close to my face as if we were cuddle buddies. I am sure in the whole evolutionary biology scheme of things we did little harm to the sea hare and its mating schedule (at least that is the lie I am telling myself), but just in case I am going to encourage Tricia to buy extra bolt locks for her doors and roof and hire specialized security the next time we are lounging on her couch.

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