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Paying lip service to fish

So it’s just another rainy, Thursday morning. I’m drinking my coffee, listening to my iPod, browsing the Internet and casually thinking about my up-coming week, when… A TWO-MOUTHED FISH WAS PULLED OUT OF A LAKE NEAR THE ATHABASCA ALBERTA OIL SANDS!?

There, on my computer screen, is a story about Northern Alberta that casually references a 2.5 kilogram, double mouthed, goldeye caught by two boys fishing at Lake Athabasca three weeks ago. Just downstream from the world’s largest reservoir of crude bitumen.

Okay, so maybe my head has been in the clouds recently, but how on earth did I miss this? And how does no one else around me know about the two-mouthed mutant either?

I mean, this is huge. This should have been the number one news story at every national publication. The international media should have even zeroed in on this one. This is a visibly mutated animal born and raised right next to Alberta’s largest oil sands. And this discovery likely means that whatever is going on in Northern Alberta is not just messing up the physical environment. It is also doing a fantastic job of screwing with hormone regulators and DNA.

This is akin to those grossly exaggerated cartoons where a family lives next to a nuclear power plant and their son is born with an arm coming out of his stomach. And the mother has 30 eyeballs. Except, whoa, this is real. The fish has two jaws, one on top of the other. I saw a photo of it.

My interest piqued, I did some research on the mutated creature. And, almost more bizarre than the fish’s malformations, most articles I read stated, “nothing yet has linked the two mouths to the very-nearby oil sands production.”

Sorry for my ineloquence, but, like, dude… seriously?

If a man jumps off a bridge, and the coroner reports his cause of death is not yet known, that does not mean he did not die from jumping off the bridge. Yeah, ultimately his death was probably from a head injury or internal bleeding. But, no matter how you slice it, he died from jumping off the bridge. People saw it happen.

Just like people have seen a deformed fish swimming in a hugely disturbed ecosystem.

One of my most memorable university lectures during my undergraduate biology days was a talk on how chemicals sometimes mimic hormones. In other words, a chemical compound sometimes, randomly, fits like a puzzle piece into a cell’s hormone receptor. This accidental union then causes an unprogrammed reaction to take place that may produce a major change in the way the animal functions.

For example, my professor explained, in Florida scientists studied a group of alligators who lived in a lake where an unnamed company was dumping chemicals. Unfortunately for the alligators, these chemicals caused their cells to release enormous amounts of estrogen. Over time, the scientists found that the male alligators were turning into pseudo-females, and the females were becoming so-called “super females”.

Now, I know that the fish situation is different than the alligator situation. But as I read about the mutant in Alberta, I couldn’t help thinking back to that case study.

And yeah, maybe the fish’s mutations are not directly related to the oil sands. Yet, the evidence is too strong for me to believe that evolution is really on a drinking binge. All signs point to the “dirty” oil product. Until Alberta’s Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program proves otherwise, I’ll stand firm on my argument.

Of course, it’s one thing for me to sit in Whistler and get worked up about how oil production is affecting an animal’s biology. It is an entirely different thing to hear this news if you are a member of the Mikisew First Nation, who live directly downstream from the oil stands.

The First Nation has been concerned for years that industrial development is affecting their drinking water. They have been telling the Alberta government that a disproportionate number of their people have been dying from a rare bile-duct cancer. Statistically cholangiocarcinoma should affect one in 100,000 people. For the Mikisew, it’s more like one in 200 people.

Now, to add to their concerns, the Mikisew have a two-mouthed, dead fish on their plate.

Whatever side you stand on the oil debate, I think everyone in Canada should be talking about this. We should be rallying the government to amp up their research in the area. We should find out what other potential health problems could arise from the Athabasca oil sands. And we should make sure we do not see any more two-mouthed fish. The ramifications are too important to ignore.

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