The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 United States Friday, November 27, 2015

Disquieting times for Malaysia's 'fish listener'
A 68 year-old fish listener Harun Muhammad (L) clings onto his fishing boat at sea near Setiu lagoons, as his son Zuraini (R) looks on. One hand clinging to his boat's gunwale, Harun Muhammad submerges himself, eyes and ears wide open underwater as he "listens" for fish sounds emanating from the blue depths. Harun is one of Malaysia's last "fish listeners," and he and his apprentice son Zuraini are believed to be the only active practitioners of this mysterious and dying traditional art. AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA.

By: Shannon Teoh

SETIU (AFP).- One hand clinging to his boat's gunwale, Harun Muhammad submerges himself, eyes and ears wide open underwater as he "listens" for fish sounds emanating from the blue depths.

Harun is one of Malaysia's last "fish listeners," and he and his apprentice son Zuraini are believed to be the only active practitioners of this mysterious and dying local art.

"When you listen, it is like through a looking glass -- you can see mackerel, sardine," said Harun, 68, who has fished the Setiu lagoons on Malaysia's rural east coast his whole life.

"For us, we only look for gelama (a type of croaker). But in the schools of gelama, there will be other fish. The gelama is the king of fish."

Other fish listeners have passed away, retired or turned to modern fish-detection technology as the traditional practice has retreated in the face of dwindling catches and proliferating undersea noise.

Studies show Malaysian waters lost 92 percent of fishery resources between 1971 to 2007 due to overfishing.

"You can't copy our technique. You must gain the skill and learn the lay of the waters," said Harun.

"The wholesalers tell me, 'if you're gone, there will be no more gelama'," which fetches up to ten times the price of similarly sized fish.

Sounds fishy
"Pak Harun", as he is known locally -- "Pak" is a Malay honorific similar to "Uncle" -- finds it hard to describe exactly how fish sound, but likens it to pebbles being dropped into water.

"They have a voice. This sound is this fish, that sound is another. When someone is new, they can't tell one fish song from another."

Harun and his crew of a dozen can go nearly a week without hearing gelama -- which invites scepticism about the claimed fish-listening ability.

But experts in sonifery (fish sounds) say sailors have long heard sounds of whales and fish through boat hulls.

"Scuba divers often do not hear anything because their breathing and bubble exhaust makes so much noise. However free divers, or divers using quiet re-breathers, can hear much better," said US-based marine ecologist Rodney Rountree.

Former fish listeners describe a range of techniques. Some claim they can feel changes in water temperature.

For Harun, it is a multi-sensory experience requiring eyes wide open.

"After a while, it is as if you can see. Even though the fish is very far, you can sense it in that direction and you go there. Only when you get close, you can hear the fish clearly," he said.

Though he sports a slight paunch on his sun-darkened frame under a spiky white head of hair, Harun remains sprightly despite his years, deftly clambering in and out of his boat in search of fish sounds.

Once he pinpoints a school of gelama, his crew -- who have hung back with engines off -- motor forward, drop their nets and strike the sides of their boats to spook the fish into the mesh trap.

"You think it's just stupid fish but they can see you coming. When they hear the sound of the boat, they run. The fish cry or shout and then their friends swim away," he said.

Listening in vain
Landing a rich catch was easy when stocks were abundant, Harun said.

But after decades of overfishing, he now "listens" up to several dozen times under the scorching equatorial sun before catching a snippet of gelama song.

Modernisation, including sand dredging, aquaculture, factories and fishing trawlers have transformed the Setiu wetlands, a rich but threatened coastal ecosystem centering on a 14-kilometre (9 mile) long lagoon along the South China Sea.

The state of Terengganu is seeking to make it a protected park.

But Harun's catch is increasingly unpredictable, averaging about $2,000 per week gross, leaving little left over after all crew are paid, and fuel, maintenance, and other costs are deducted.

"Each year, the catch has reduced. But I'm not good at anything else, so I still have to do this," said his son and apprentice Zuraini.

Malaysia ranks among the top consumers of seafood in the world.

Intergovernmental industry researchers Infofish say Malaysians eat an average of 56.5 kilogrammes of seafood per person annually, more even than Japanese.

The global average is 20 kilos.

WWF-Malaysia chief Dionysius Sharma said overfishing threatens to leave Malaysian waters "vast and barren".

The organisation warns Malaysia's waters could run out of seafood by 2048.

Despite the long odds, Zuraini, 44, said someday he will train one of his own sons.

"I don't want to see this practice die off," he said.

© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

Today's News

August 21, 2014

Neanderthals and humans were both living in Europe for between 2,600 and 5,400 years

Debbas Collection of works by Shafic Abboud covering six decades to highlight Christie's Dubai Sale

Amsterdam's Allard Pierson Museum keeps disputed Crimea treasure to avoid legal fight

Tokyo Chuo Auction to present exceptional Chinese works of art in September sale

Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art announces new Head of Australian Art

National Portrait Gallery to accept digital entries for BP Portrait Award 2015

Joslyn Art Museum announces new gifts of contemporary sculpture, Western painting

New study says seals not Christopher Columbus brought tuberculosis to Americas

Historic Kings Theatre is transformed into major New York Performing Arts venue

Swann Galleries' announces top August Posters Auction of all time bringing in more than $800,000

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark will play at the Museum of Liverpool on 1 November 2014

Exhibition of new photographic series by Hrafnkell Sigurdsson opens at i8 in Reykjavík

Book chronicles Nadav Kander's fascination with secret Soviet scientific cities

Yorkshire Sculpture Park joins the Great Art Quest

Unprecedented attendance at Sotheby's Old Master Q: What the @#$% is Going On? exhibition

National Museum acquires Michael Chamberlain Torana

Artsy and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair to partner

Mike Osborne's new monograph 'Floating Island' published by Daylight

Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp Archive at Heritage Auctions

Indian College excavation reopens in Harvard Yard

Portland Museum of Art hires new Assistant Curator of European Art

Disquieting times for Malaysia's 'fish listener'

Most Popular Last Seven Days

1.- First solo exhibition by the American artist Mickalene Thomas in Belgium opens at Galerie Nathalie Obadia

2.- Israel accidentally finds ancient mosaic that served as pavement for a courtyard in a villa

3.- The address of Johannes Vermeer's the Little Street discovered by Rijksmuseum curator

4.- The nine lives of Russia's Hermitage cats that root out unwanted guests: Rodents

5.- Robbers make off with masterpieces by Rubens and Tintoretto from museum in Verona

6.- 17th century letters at Museum of Communication reveal refugees 'sense of loss'

7.- New museum dedicated to the artist Mu Xin opens in Zhejiang Province, China

8.- Who are the most prolific art collectors in the US today?

9.- Rubens House brings newly discovered study for a portrait by Van Dyck to Antwerp

10.- "The Nude in the XX and XXI century" curated by Jane Neal opens at Sotheby's S/2 London

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
Editor & Publisher:Jose Villarreal - Consultant: Ignacio Villarreal Jr.
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Social Network Manager and Translator: Norma Cristina Pérez Ayala Cano

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful