Winging it 

In Winging It, read how Jenny, the ship’s cat, catches flying fish and provides a fresh-is-best portion of the sailors’ diet. Flying fish landing on deck is like having room service reckons Able Sea-cat Bart in this true tale of seafaring felines, the sailors’ pest controllers, shipmates, mascots and pets.  

Cat catches fish

The Telegraph Brisbane Australia 28 December 1926 — “Believe it or not, this cat catches flying fish and provides a portion of the sailors’ diet,” said Mr Gustavo Green, chief officer of the Roosevelt Line steamer Cokesit to a representative of The Telegraph on Tuesday. The chief officer’s story was confirmed by Frank Brewer (second officer) and P. Simmons (third officer). They said that the cat sitting on the lower deck aft would reach up and seize a flying fish with its claws and mouth, then kill it by chewing its head, but save the body for the crew!

Jenny catching flying fish. The world is a smorgasbord of opportunities for hungry seafaring felines and ships cats. “The cat proved most difficult to train,” said the chief officer, “but the trouble has proved worthwhile. It is a well-known fact that flying fish often jump aboard vessels – especially when passing through the Pacific Ocean. The fish is capable of flying at a height of 15 feet off the water! When the ship is fully loaded and is lying low in the water we frequently find a number of flying fish lying on the lower after-deck. For some time, our cat Jenny got to the fish before we discovered them, and she commenced to make a meal of them.”

At first the members of the ship’s company did not believe that Jenny caught the fish herself, but one evening an apprentice was patrolling the deck aft, when he saw Jenny reach up and seize a fish in the air. Jenny at first sat on the edge of the deck outside the rail when the fish were flying and tried to grab them. Now and again the fish would fly on to the deck, and Jenny evidently considered that she should not waste her energy catching them when they would come aboard of their own free will. She devoted her energies to catching the fish that came near the edge of the ship. After the cat had been punished a few times she realised that she was not allowed to eat the fish she caught end thus she became, a benefactor to the officers and crew of the Cokesit


Catch of the day

My take on thisRodent day in day out is filling but not terribly tasty and often hard work. It can feel like singing for the same old supper. Where’s the mouth-watering anticipation in that? Ginger Ninja’s life is full of culinary delights. He was boasting about a finely chopped chicken confit neighbour Kate just whipped up for him. Talk about silver platters and landing on your feet. The nearest a seafurrer gets to room service is the odd flying fish that lands on deck to avoid becoming dinner down under. I certainly give them a warm welcome. I move fast to stake my claim as others have plans for pan-fried flying fish fillets. I prefer sashimi. I have occasionally reached out to catch fish heading our way. Shipmates can have an undue sense of entitlement to something they didn’t catch. I am sure it was share and share alike in the end on board the Cokesit. I’d put money on Able-Seacat Jenny looking after Numero Uno. 


How flying fish fly

27 September 1897 — “There are a lot of flying fish and dolphins near the ship and at night, in particular, they provide a very beautiful display with their rapid movement on the phosphorescent sea” reports explorer Roald Amundsen in Belgica Diary.

This is no fish out of water one off. This is what flying fish do: they soar above the waves using their long, strong pectoral and pelvic fins as wings. “The process of taking flight, or gliding, begins by gaining great velocity underwater, about 60 k.p.h. Angling upward, the four-winged flying fish breaks the surface and begins to taxi by rapidly beating its tail while it is still beneath the surface. It then takes to the air, sometimes reaching heights over 1.2 metres and gliding long distances, up to 200 metres. Once it nears the surface again, it can flap its tail and taxi without fully returning to the water. Capable of continuing its flight in such a manner, flying fish have been recorded stretching out their flights with consecutive glides spanning distances up to 400 metres.” (National Geographic)

They mastered flight, but not always happy landings. “Three flying fish flew over the rails tonight,” says Amundsen. “Of course they were given a warm reception, especially by Nansen, our small cat. When it is dark she creeps around the deck and catches flying fish all night long.”