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Carp!

Don't panic. Have a hamburger

Get your tickets now for the next big-budget disaster movie: Carp! The widescreen epic will show how the world as we know it is threatened by fat, weed-bingeing, armor-clad freshwater fish in the Everglades. Picture it. Vast, wriggling fields of Cyprinus carpio, consuming anything that comes near, their mouths opening and closing hungrily, writhing in the mud with a terrible mucky sound. Eek, watch out! There's a toddler walking unsteadily along a path...

The movie, reportedly scheduled to go into production any day now by We-Film-Anything Pictures, is all fact-based. The backstory, Tailpipe has learned, is that the Broward County Everglades have for years been seeded by the Fish and Wildlife Commission with "triploid grass carp" to control weeds. Oversized and supposedly sterile, they find bountiful grazing pastures in the ponds and channels on the eastern edges of the swamp.

As with any serene picture nowadays, there's a dark conspiracy theory attached to it. According to Frank Menser, a Broward county backyard herpetologist with more than 30 years' experience ogling Broward's scaliest creatures, those carp out there are actually breeding.

He got it all from an impeccable source, someone close to fish control authorities. The Fish Whisperer swears up and down that he's seen the impossible, Menser says. Baby grass carp in the Hillsboro canal in northern Broward County. Aiyee. Those monsters are breeding.

Grass carp eggs destined for Florida ponds are zapped with hormones and pressure treatment, making them "triploid" by giving them an extra chromosome. With too many chromosomes, the fish can't breed. Each batch of fish produced in Florida is rigorously tested for triploidy. But if the Fish Whisperer is right, the Everglades are in trouble.

Breeding grass carp would be a nightmare. There are hundreds of thousands of the huge fish in South Florida ponds. With a lifespan of up to 15 years and a hearty girth of up to 50 pounds, the carp would trample everything else in Florida's waterways. Nonsterile species of carp have already done that in other states, such as Illinois. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a breeding and eating machine.

Could it be true? Tailpipe decided to go fishing to find out. Guided by e-mailed instructions from the Fish Whisperer, the 'Pipe found himself leaning out over the bank of the Hillsboro canal on a recent Saturday morning. In the shallows were plenty of small, silvery fish, many of which looked like the picture of carp small fry he'd studied on the computer. But Mesner wasn't so sure.

"That one's a tilapia," he said, frowning. "That's a saltwater fish — it's not even supposed to be in here. And that one — I'm not even sure what that is, but it's not a carp."

At one point, Menser gestured for the net that Tailpipe had brought for this outing, a tiny $1 plastic affair duct-taped to a large bass-catching net with a six-foot wooden handle.

Menser spent a half hour rummaging and pouncing in the reeds until the poor-man's carp-catcher broke apart under the dock. He caught a few minnows but, disappointingly, nothing that looked like carp small fry.

The 'Pipe returned home empty-handed to ask a carp expert how likely it was that his equipment malfunction had prevented a biological discovery of thrilling proportions.

"We've had a couple of reports of carp spawning, and it usually turns out to be other species," says David Douglas, the biological administrator and habitat and species conservation officer for The Fish and Wildlife Commission in Eustis. "If the triploid is a real triploid and has been produced correctly, then the answer should be 100 percent 'no. '"

"They don't reproduce," said Jon Fury, a regional fisheries biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Commission. "What he's probably seeing is either small lake chubsuckers, which is similar body structure to a grass carp. Or small golden shiners; they kind of have the same reflective coloration."

When pressed, Fury conceded that some normal, reproductively ready diploid carp might sneak through the regulation process. "Not every specific fish is checked," he says.

Scary echoes of Jeff Goldblum talking about supposedly sterile dinosaurs in Jurassic Park: "Life finds a way."

Could nature find a way?

"Well, I guess anything's possible," Fury says.

Tailpipe is keeping all the pipette toddlers in his family fenced in behind the home garage with an armed guard.

Panic Room

Although not as eagerly anticipated as the start of duck season, hurricane season does bring with it some odd birds. Like folks who'd lay down extra cash for a new home with a specially constructed room designed to let you ride out a killer Category 4 storm in high style.

Bentley Realty Group, a luxury townhome builder offering swank residences for the disposable-income set, is rolling out two new projects in Fort Lauderdale that come complete with the accouterments one would expect. Granite countertops, wood cabinets, stainless-steel appliances, and Jacuzzi-style bathtubs are all standard. For those who don't desire a repeat of last fall's electricity-less weeks filled with Scrabble and cold Spaghetti-O's, Bentley's new projects in Victoria Park and Riverside Park also promise "carefree luxury townhouse living" for $600,000 to $700,000. They've got "state-of-the-art hurricane protection."

For starters, the entire structure — all three floors, including the roof — is made of concrete. It's outfitted with impact doors and windows. And each unit comes with a "hurricane room with separate protected amenities," such as natural gas fixtures and an optional natural gas generator. Feel like fryin' up a burger while the rest of the world hunkers down in 120-mph wind? Just fire up that stove.

"It'll be extra-strong protection," real estate agent Kim Winters says. "If the power goes out, you'll be pretty much up and running."

Alas, preconstruction sales have been slow. "When nothing's there, it's a little bit harder," she says, "but once you see walls going up... "

Bentley is the only developer to introduce the tropical-storm-ready safe rooms so far, she says, noting that she expects copycats once the townhomes start selling. Tailpipe is, of course, down with the notion that "the time to be among the few to live the Bentley life is now" but feels pretty secure in his own hurricane room. Sure, it's a shoe-strewn hall closet. But it does the job.

Superheroes

Hey, kiddies! Hurricane season's here again, and you know what that means: power outages, gas fumes in the house, Daddy hurting himself on the broken fence, Mommy drinking in the bathroom, and you fixing cereal with melted ice instead of milk. This year, Broward County put an activity book online (broward.org/hurricane/hurricane_kids.htm) to help you remember tips like, "Fallen trees are not steady and can roll over on you." To make this storm preparation exciting, the county has also enlisted a pair of mascot doodles named Commander Ready and Captain Safeway, clad in utility belts, sunglasses, capes, and stripper boots.

You might ask where were these supposed heroes during the past two brutal hurricane seasons, when you could have really used them? Well, let's just say they were away training with some even cooler superheroes ...

— As told to Edmund Newton


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