In the moments before a 39.08-pound shortraker rockfish rose to the bait that Henry Liebman had cast into the deep, cold waters off Sitka, Alaska, we might as well assume that nothing at all was going through its mind. The fish was not thinking that it was about to become the biggest shortraker rockfish ever caught; it was not self-conscious about looking like a hideously mutated goldfish puppet. A biologist from Alaska's Department of Fish and Game estimated that the fish could be around 200 years old, although it's doubtful the fish was thinking about any of the things it saw -- or, being a deep-water fish, really only sort of saw -- over its two centuries off the coast of Alaska.
Because it was until very recently a living fish, it's likely that whatever the rockfish was thinking about, it quickly forgot, then probably thought again as if it had never previously thought it, and then innocently forgot, again. It's tough to imagine the thought process of any organism this old -- the fish, if it's as old as believed, is older than Alaska itself, and was swimming hideously and we might as well presume happily while Abraham Lincoln was still a child -- but also this is a fish, and so it's not really that tough.
Like most fish, this rockfish -- a contemporary of Napoleon Bonaparte, although there's no evidence the two ever met -- was limited to thoughts that were likely something along the lines of: "fish fish fish fish fish /excrete." And then it hit Henry Liebman's hook, and a journey -- or, anyway, a great deal of lividly orange, bug-eyed deep-water pacing -- that probably started during the presidency of James Madison began its end.
this 200 year old fish is so weird looking! pic.twitter.com/S3TBnTS6WY— billy (@billyutah) July 2, 2013
There is a great deal we don't know about this story, even beyond the now-deceased rockfish's experience of the Gilded Age, or thoughts on the invention of the internal combustion engine or incandescent light bulb or Snapchat. There's the question of why Liebman identified himself to the Sitka Sentinel as an insurance adjustor, when he looks kind of exactly like the Henry Liebman who developed Seattle's Sodo district and is one of that city's largest land-owners.*
*This is actually weird.--ed.
There's the question of how the fish's age will be determined. There's the unanswered question of whether the fish and Napoleon ever did meet, and under what circumstances, and what they discussed at that meeting. The question of whether the fish ever saw the character of Admiral Ackbar in Return of the Jedi and was like, "They are totally ripping me off, I should sue" and then forgot about it, and then thought it again 30 seconds later.
There's the question of whether killing the oldest living things on the planet is a sport, or a worthwhile thing to do. These are all difficult questions, but we know this: the fish didn't know the answer to any of them, because it was a fish.