Subscribe to The Atlantic and get 2 free issues

The Woman Who Counted Fish: Conservation, Domestication and the Future of the Animal Kingdom

From the opening chapter of Jon Mooallem's book Wild Ones, as recommended by Maria Popova, a look at the lengths we go to preserve the animal kingdom:

"At the furthest, most mundane reaches of this almost incomprehensibly sprawling program to protect the fish, the government has even hired ordinary Americans—retirees, housewives, at least one moonlighting concert clarinetist—to work as census takers in a cramped office inside the dam, several stories down, staring through an underwater window to count each and every fish that swims past the glass, an average of 4.5 million fish every year. On the morning I visited, a rail-thin woman named Janet was sitting at an old-fashioned metal desk, six hours into her eight-hour shift, scrunching her eyes with unshakable concentration as fish dribbled by the window one at a time, or swarmed through in rapid-fire mobs. Janet frequently dreams about counting fish, she told me. Once, she sat straight up in bed next to her husband and screamed, 'Did you see the size of that one?'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2605 words)