Mutant-mussel Alert


January 05, 1992|BY DAVE BARRY

I had hoped that we could get the new year under way without any reports of ecologically dangerous shellfish attacking women's undergarments, but I see now that I was a fool.

I have here an alarming news article written by Christopher Taylor of the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times and sent in by several alert readers. The headline, which I am not making up, says: "Large Colony of Zebra Mussels Found Clinging to Big Brassiere."

In case you haven't heard, the zebra mussel is a hot new environmental threat. Forget the killer bees. Oh, sure, they got a lot of scary headlines, but they never lived up to their potential. Whereas at this very moment, the zebra mussel is raging out of control in the Great Lakes region. Well, OK, maybe "raging" is a strong term. As a rule, mussels don't rage.

Nevertheless we have reason to fear the zebra mussel, which gets its name from the fact that it roams the plains of Africa in giant herds.

No, seriously, it gets its name from the fact that it has a striped shell, which grows to about an inch long. About five years ago, a group of zebra mussels, possibly carrying forged passports, came from Europe to the Great Lakes in the bilge water of a European ship, and they've been reproducing like crazy ever since. They are the Sex Maniacs of the Sea. Here's a quote from an August 1991 Washington Post article:

"Each female can produce 30,000 eggs a year, leading to huge colonies of billions of the animals clinging to every available surface. Recently, marine biologists have discovered concentrations reaching 700,000 mussels a cubic yard. . . . "

So apparently spaying them on an individual basis is out of the question. But something has to be done, because zebra mussels are clogging up water-supply pipes, and they're spreading fast. Controlling them could cost billions of dollars.

The money will of course come from taxpayers such as yourself, which is why you need to stay informed about this story, especially the giant-brassiere angle. Here are the key quotes from the Watertown Daily Times story:

"A large brassiere pulled from waters near the Genesee River at Rochester was carrying the largest colony of zebra mussels found so far in Lake Ontario. . . .

"The brassiere -- and the mussels -- are now under observation at the Department of Environmental Conservation Fisheries Research Station at Cape Vincent.

"DEC Supervisory Aquatic Biologist Gerard C. LeTendre said the bra was scooped up while DEC staff were trawling for dead lake trout near the Genesee River. . . . Because of the size of the garment, Mr. LeTendre said, more than 100 mussels had managed to attach themselves to it.

" 'Whoever that bra belonged to was of large proportions,' Mr. LeTendre said. 'It was huge.' "

This episode raises a number of troubling questions, including:

*They were trawling for dead trout?

*Is that sporting?

*Could it possibly be that the zebra mussels have become carnivorous and ate the original bra occupant?

*Has anybody seen Dolly Parton in person recently?

In an effort to get to the bottom of this, I called the research station and grilled Gerard LeTendre.

"Is it true," I said, "that you have a large brassiere under observation?"

"It's really just in a box in my office," he said. "The newspaper made it sound like we have it in an aquarium."

He also said they still don't know who owns the bra.

He said that many people have offered suggestions about what to do with the bra, including "holding a Cinderella-type contest to see who it fits."

For now, however, the mystery remains unsolved. Meanwhile, the zebra mussels continue to multiply. Even as you read these words, a huge colony of them could be clustering ominously around a Sears catalog that fell overboard, nudging it open to the foundation-garments section. It is a chilling thought, and until the authorities come up with a plan of action, I am urging everybody to take the sensible precaution of developing a nervous facial tic. Also, if you must wear a brassiere, please wear it on the outside, where the Department of Environmental

Conservation can keep an eye on it. Thank you.

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