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Kayaking and The World’s Most Dangerous Fish

I (barely) survived the world’s most dangerous fish, Escolar. Aka Butterfish. Aka White Tuna.

It all started out innocently enough. My friend and I drove up to Channel Islands Harbor to go kayaking. We had a Groupon for the History & Wildlife Tour. There’s a restaurant right next door called Sea Fresh where we decided to have lunch. Really nice little place with outdoor seating and nice views of the harbor.

We had decided on what to order, but while waiting in line I was looking at all the fish in the display case and one in particular looked really good!!!

“What’s Escolar?” I asked.

My friend had never heard of it either, but agreed it looked good and then we saw a sign advertising a special offer of Blackened Escolar sandwich with salad bar & coleslaw for $11.95. I said I was getting that and she decided she wanted to get away from her usual and try it as well.

It looked delicious. It tasted delicious.

After we finished eating I Googled the fish and…OMG! We joked around about how we hoped nothing happened while we were out in the kayaks, never in a million years thinking anything really would happen.

Back at Channel Islands Kayaking Center we and 10 or 12 other people stood in the grassy area to learn proper paddling techniques and put on our life jackets. Then, down to the dock where they got us on the water, one kayak at a time.

Our guide was Miranda and she was really nice and did a great job telling us about the harbor, the islands, and the sea life. In the canals the water is shallow enough that she could reach in and pull out different sea creatures for us to hold. I held a red starfish, and a slimy, inky sea hare. We also saw blue starfish, white starfish, a sea anemone, something that has lungs on the outside of its body, and lots of sea lions! Sea lions swimming in the harbor with us and one colossal fellow they call Shaq sitting on a dock. Oh and let’s not forget the blue herons, snowy egret, and pelicans!

We watched a coast guard demonstration from our kayaks complete with helicopter water rescue.

After the two hour tour Miranda said we could either go back with her or take the kayaks on our own for an hour. Everyone else went back because they were starving to death, but my friend and I were still full from lunch (That in itself should’ve been a red flag for me) and headed out on our own towards the open ocean where Miranda said we might see dolphins!

As we got closer to the end of the sea wall and I could see the open ocean I started to get a little nervous. I wasn’t convinced we should BE on the open ocean, but it’s kind of mesmerizing and I just kept paddling towards it, but then when I could see the boats flying around out there,  I knew that was not the place for us in our hard-to-see kayaks. No way could those boats see us and stop in time. And no way would any dolphins be out there with all that craziness. My friend agreed and we headed back.

My next red flag was on the drive home. I’m usually the one who is hot when everyone else has on 5 layers of clothing. But here we were in the warm car, no A/C on, my friend is peeling off layers and I’m a little chilly with my towel over my legs. Hmmm…

By the time I get home I’m freezing to death and after three hours of paddling I’m still not a bit hungry, even though lunch was 7 hours ago. All I wanted was ice cream.

Got my ice cream, took a hot shower, put on my winter pajamas, still freezing. Went to bed early.

Woke up at 4am and all hell broke loose. I’ll spare you the gory details, but basically it involved 5 hours of vomiting and 6 days of the other misery. The worst were the stabbing abdominal pains. Felt like sharp knives.

I’ve never experienced anything like that before and hope I never do again. I missed two days of work. I’m writing a letter to the restaurant and the FDA, which has tried to ban the fish from the USA (other countries, smarter than us, already have) and urges restaurants and markets to not sell it or at least warn people of what the fish can do.

My friend was lucky and was only mildly affected.

Please note that my illness had nothing to do with the cleanliness of the restaurant or spoiled fish or anything like that. It would not matter where I ate this fish or how fresh it was. It’s the nature of the fish itself. It’s indigestible for some people. Other people can eat it without any problem. It has some kind of waxy oil in it that acts the same way a heavy dose of castor oil does.  So, please don’t be afraid to go to this restaurant. They were very clean and even had the salad dressings for the salad bar on ice and the plates and utensils aren’t out for people to paw through, they handed us salad bowls fresh from the kitchen.

I would eat there again, I would just ask them to either stop selling the Escolar or put a warning sign next to it.

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  1. swright9
    May 21, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    A terribly unfortunate situation. I’ve haven’t heard of “escolar” and will stay clear. Thx for the heads up. But I hope at least you enjoyed the Channel Islands … Calif. rocks

  2. August 8, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    When I went kayaking there, I avoided that restaurant. I know it’s not the restaurant, but still, they should not serve dangerous fish.

  1. May 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm

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