An understanding of how the Snorkelhawk arose cannot be had without first learning a bit about its ancestor, the Snorkelfish.
Fossils of the Snorkelfish have been found in oil deposits beneath the late Panthalassic Ocean. Specimens were invariably rusted, having been subjected to the great salt gritting that brought an end to the Ice Ages, and furthermore were completely pulverised by tecto-volcanic processes. This complicated their identification, and they were initially assumed to be seagiraffes, distant cousins of the more widespread seahorse. It wasn’t until evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, more commonly known for his double standards, published a paper exposing the utter lack of evidence for any vertebrae in this so-called giraffe’s supposed neck, that the wonder of the Snorkelfish was made ponderable by mankind.
The neck was, in common parlance, a snorkel. The longest on record is 12.8 metres, or 42 trimtres in the measurement of the Snorkelfish’s time. Dawkins did not fall into the too easily fallen into trap of proposing that the Snorkelfish was in fact a mammal whose snorkel allowed it to breath underwater. The Snorkelfish was quite clearly a fish, hence the name. His theory was that the snorkel evolved in concert with the Snorkelfish’s notably noteworthy courting rituals.
On the longest day of the year, the lady Snorkelfish would gather round a primitive coralosseum to watch the manly Snorkelfish compete in a sport straight out of a primary school playground. They would fill their gills at sunrise and not again till sunset. Surrender was an alien concept to the Snorkelfish. If one could not hold its gills till sunset, it would fall into a coma and drown before it gilled again. This of course explains why there are no Snorkelfish to be found in the polar extremities of the Panthalassic Ocean, where the longest day is several weeks long.
Those who survived, bred. Dawkins’ theory was that this evolutionary pressure brought about the development of snorkels, which allowed the Snorkelfish a way to bend the rules and breathe real air while technically holding their gills for up to 24 hours.
Dawkins’ theory went unchallenged for years. It was only last year that marine biologist Roosevelt Baron-Cohen (of the same prodigious family that brought you comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and composer Erran Baron-Cohen) found the courage to challenge Dawkins’ dogma.
Rose (as she likes to be called) had realised that while Snorkelfish are notoriously tasty fish, their cooked flesh having the texture of a well poached egg and the taste of ice cream chewits, they do not appear on any menus of the Snorkelfish’s time. To explain this conundrum, Rose posited that the Snorkelfish’s snorkel somehow allowed it to detect and so escape the wrath of fisherman. How? By smelling the smoke from their cigarettes.
Her paper was well received amongst peers, many of whom had questioned how, in Dawkins’ version of events, the Snorkelfish could have evolved in a typical stepwise fashion, an organ designed to let them breathe underwater. An insufficiently long snorkel would not reach the surface, and was therefore useless. To confer a survival advantage, the Snorkelfish would have had to evolved a 42 trimtre snorkel in one fell swoop – a feat not accounted for by modern understanding of genetics.
Rose’s theory on the other hand, allowed for a stepwise evolution. Increasingly long snorkels allowed fishermen to be detected from increasingly safer depths. Stepwise evolution is allowed for, and so Rose’s theory became the prominent one. At least until her subsequent theory, which literally blew the Snorkelfish out of the water.
In her second theory of Snorkelfish, Rose suggested that the snorkel was not in fact a snorkel, but a periscope. A length of tube not carrying air, but light, allowing the Snorkelfish not to smell out the fisherman, but actually see them. Of course, Snorkelfish fossils are too poorly preserved to prove exactly what the snorkel organ was designed to carry. The convincing strength in Rose’s 2nd symphony, was its explanation of how the Snorkelhawk evolved.
If a Snorkelfish swam near the surface, its 42 tintre snorkel sailed with the birds. And birds, effortlessly floating through a waterless medium, are like angels to seabound creature like the Snorkelfish. The Snorkelfish idolised the birds. The Snorkelfish wanted to fly.
Far from the first seabound creatures to hold such ambitions, it has been attempted before. Dolphins, flying fish, penguins – all have made their bids for the sky. All have failed. The transition from bouyantly viscous water to unforgivingly empty air is too sharp for evolution to handle. A wing is simply too far from a fin.
The Snorkelhawk succeeded by completely redesigning its locomotive system. Its fishlike fins became vestigial, replaced by a locomotive system more akin to a circulatory system. Its body plumpened and rounded, in the centre of which sat a bloodless heart, distributing vessels all over the now perfectly spherical body. By pumping this heart, and closing and opening different patterns of vessels, the fish/hawk can pump/suck enough water/air to/from any direction to propel itself where it pleases.
This was not only the crux of Rose’s theory, it was the most controversial point. It challenged the very understanding of evolution as a series of random, uncontrolled mutations. It infuriated Dawkins, reminding him of the Intelligent Design fanatics he had spent his life ridiculing. How could a creature evolve with such foresight, such control?
One can only imagine Rose’s smugness when she answered with a nod to his own discredited theory on the evolution of Snorkelfish – sexual selection.
Rose proposed that the Snorkelfish held the fish of the skies in such high regard, so great was societal will to join them, that they designed a way to reach the skies and inflicted a painstaking programme of sexual selection on themselves to fulfil that design. This of course explains their bizarre and suicidal gill holding courting ritual, as Snorkelhawks would have to evolve a way to breathe air.
It is strange that the most often overlooked evolutionary curiosity of the Snorkelhawk is by far the most fascinating. To make the circulatory locomotive system viable in air, it had to make its body weight as light as possible. Carrying a 42 trimtre snorkel, the measures were necessarily drastic. Rather than filling the unused nooks and crannies of its body with fat and flesh, like every other earthbound creature, the Snorkelhawk sustains a near perfect vacuum. Empty space, lighter than air. So perfect a vacuum in fact, that black holes cavitate, triggering galaxy formation and solar systems. Most marine biologists believe that this was quite incidental, a return to the true unpredictable bizarreness that most associate with evolution. That’s not to say the Snorkelhawk didn’t put it to good use though. Flying high in the sky, it’s 42 trimtre snorkel piercing the atmosphere and spying on the heavens, the Snorkelhawk tracks the movements of our universe’s stars and planets. By mapping what it sees onto its own internal universe, where everything is smaller by a factor of a kerjillion, including time, it holds the future within its very self. This absolute, all encompassing foresight explains why the Snorkelhawk is never captured, and seldom seen.