The little gray musk turtle and the colorful painted turtle are the turtles you are most likely to see, and though they are fast swimmers and could lose you in a second, they’ll let you tag along if you float without abrupt movements. All turtles have to frequently surface for air, usually about every 7-11 minutes, depending on how active they have been, how warm it is, and how much oxygen is in the water. There is no question that the pleasure of turtles adds an extra dimension to your snorkeling experience.
And, what do I have to say about those nuisance species, the zebra mussel and the blood- sucking lamprey? The lamprey will most often be seen in those lakes that have access to one of the Great Lakes, but the zebra mussels have unfortunately become much more common and have spread to many of our inland lakes, and believe me, when they get a start in a lake, they really take over, encrusting every branch and every rock until nothing underneath can be seen. Many studies have been done, and there is not a scintilla of evidence that they do any damage whatsoever to any species of fish or vegetation--the damage they do is in pipes by completely clogging them. They are actually an aid to a snorkeler, as their presence can pretty much assure you the lake will be clear and visibility will be excellent. Surprisingly, of the 480 lakes which are included in my book for interest and visibility, only about 8 of them were invaded by zebra mussels.
People often ask me if I see much trash underwater, and I can fortunately answer that in the negative. On the other hand, I can definitively say that the majority of fishermen drink Bud Lite, but even the beer cans are not too common. I was surprised at the number of golf balls lying around, since none of the lakes was near a golf course, so this remains a mystery. The one item I saw consistently was the little white plastic container that holds the worms sold in bait shops. Other than that, there was little or no unsightly trash to mar the experience.
One thing that did cause a pang of regret was the sight of quite a number of fish with hooks hanging out of their mouths, or with mouths torn or gashed. I know many fishermen practice catch and release, but when a fish is caught or even taken into a boat for a short time, there are precious seconds where oxygen is lost and the fish seem not able to swim as vigorously and have difficulty recovering.
Do fish feel pain and experience suffering as humans do? Neuroscience and research has clarified this issue and the question can be answered from a large base of factual information. A fish’s central nervous system consists of a spinal cord and brainstem, but the cerebral hemispheres of fish lack the regions necessary for conscious awareness of a pain experience. A human’s existence is dominated by the cerebral hemispheres while a fish is a brainstem-dominated organism. Therein lies the answer to whether fish feel pain. Fish don’t have the brain development necessary for the unpleasant psychological experience of pain or another other type of awareness. The flight response of a hooked fish is essentially no different from the response of a fish being pursued by a visible predator or a fish startled by a vibration in the water. There is also no brain region in a fish that allows the experience of fear. These responses are simple protective reactions to a range of stimuli associated with predators or threats to which a fish automatically responds. Even though it is very unlikely that fish have the capacity to experience pain or suffering, their reactions to stimuli or capture secrete stress hormones that can have undesirable health effects. This stress can be brought on by many jet skis or power boats on the water just as much as angling.
As humans age, so do fish and they show it in similar ways. They get dark and leathery looking, they often go blind and they swim much more slowly. I have actually been able to pet largemouth bass, bluegills and walleye in these dying stages, as they seem to want to come up close for comfort.
So we have come full circle, from birth to old age--as a snorkeler you can observe it all, and I hope you will do just that and discover the wonder there is beneath the surface of Michigan’s inland lakes. By now you can see that I am completely besotted with fish, and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life!