May 27th – In a move consistent with its ideological bias, but nevertheless surprising in its reach, the Abbott government announced today that it seeks to outlaw sex changes by marine fishes.
To give some background: A number of marine fishes are known to change sex during their life histories. These changes happen in both directions, male to female, and female to male, for different reasons. Evolutionarily speaking, the purpose of an animal is to produce as much offspring during its life-time as possible. This “purpose” has not been set by some supreme designer with a white beard, but is a logical consequence of the evolutionary process: animals which reproduce more will end up with more of their kind in future generations, and since this process has happened for aeons, we ended up with animals which are very good at reproducing.
Depending on the behaviour and ecological niches of different fishes, switching sex at one point during their lifes maximises the possible offspring they can produce. When male fish need to defend a territory to sire sons and daughters, it’s more beneficial to be a male when larger and more powerful. Thus, many wrasses like the eastern blue groper pictured below hatch as females and turn into males when they have grown large.
In contrast, the damselfish populating sea anemones in the tropics (“Nemo” for the fish-illiterate) switch from male to female when large. These fish don’t need to defend a territory to mate. In this case being female when big is advantageous, since it’s metabolically more expensive to make eggs than sperm (egg cells are larger and contain energy reserves for the developing embryo). Again, a sex change at a strategic time leads to more potential offspring.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott himself announced the proposed law outlawing such sex changes at a press conference in the Catholic Press Club in Canberra. “We don’t want kinky shit – pardon my French – like that in Australia” Mr. Abbott said. “The question we have to ask is: would something like that – a sex changes, simply if you think it’s to your advantage right now – happen in the bedroom of a good Christian family on Sydney’s north shore? I suppository that the answer is clear – No, or at least we’d like to most vehemently pretend so. Such behavior is in-acceptable on land and in the water as well, and needs to be forbidden by law.” The new law is set to go into effect in early 2015.
When contacted by Pacificklaus Media, biologist Dr. Klaus M. Stiefel from the University of Western Sydney said that the proposed law was “a tragic misunderstanding”, and he had tried to contact the science minister of the Abbott administration about it, just to find out that no such minister exists. Confusion also reigned about the enforcement of the proposed anti-sex-change laws, with a significant fraction of the federal police force being not good enough swimmers and divers for effectively patrolling the ocean.