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Captain’s Log: Ripping a Critter to Shreds — That’s Life in the Food Chain

Spending time in nature and carefully observing critters at all levels of the food chain can be an awe-inspiring and an almost fearful experience. It is natural to shudder when watching a critter get ripped to shreds so that another can eat. That is the one time it is not a cruel act to shred a fellow critter.

When one critter (ourselves included) lives, it costs the life of another critter, or plant. The only exception is when only fruits and seeds are eaten. Nothing is being killed, but a life is prevented because that seed or fruit may have grown into a plant of its own.

Just because we go to a grocery store and buy nicely packaged things doesn’t mean that a life wasn’t taken. It is a fact of life — and death — for the sake of life. That is meaningful to me, and it is my own nature to thank a critter for its life when I eat.

Life in the food chain often requires rapidly ripping apart a meal, even if living, and then devouring it as quickly as possible because other hungry critters are trying to steal the morsel of nourishment. I’ve seen fish steal food from each other’s mouths. I’ve had sharks bite off half of a fish I was bringing in, and then much to my dismay I had to throw my half to the shark because it was now an undersized fish. That sucks! Birds, especially seagulls, have perfected the thieve-and-swallow-quickly technique.

Here is a story I may have shared before.

On a nonprofit fishing trip benefiting inner-city youths who had never made it the relatively short distance to the beach and who had never fished, I witnessed a profound moment that changed a life. A rather scary-looking gang teenager learned how to bait an anchovy on a hook and cast it out from the boat, then wait for a bite. The bite did come and the teen jerked back hard. Perhaps too hard, because that part takes some practice.

He reeled in what was left of his baitfish, which had been literally ripped along its length by the extremely sharp teeth of a barracuda. The teen looked at the shredded anchovy, looked across the water where the bite had happened, looked back at his baitfish, nudged the equally-scary-looking teen standing next to him and said, “And we thought we wuz bad!”

I could tell that the whole story of life in the food chain had sunk in for that youngster. I believe that was one of the most important lessons of his life.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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