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Fish Work as Anti-terror Agents 227

Posted by samzenpus
from the mr-limpet dept.
sdriver writes "San Francisco's bluegills went to work about a month ago, guarding the drinking water of more than 1 million people from substances such as cyanide, diesel fuel, mercury and pesticides. "There's no known manmade sensor that can do the same job as the bluegill." The New York City Department of Environmental Protection reported at least one instance in which the system caught a toxin before it made it into the water supply."
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Fish Work as Anti-terror Agents

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  • by MrNaz (730548) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:27PM (#16151492) Homepage
    *mumbles something about preferring sharks with frikkin' laser beams*
    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:29PM (#16151503)
      The bluegills are just sensors not guards. It's as dumb as saying one of those stupid "dogs" that bimbos like Paris Hiton carry around are guard dogs.
      • by MrNaz (730548) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:31PM (#16151509) Homepage
        It's as dumb as saying one of those stupid "dogs" that bimbos like Paris Hiton carry around are guard dogs.
        They could be if you put frikkin' laser beams on their heads!
      • by SirSlud (67381)
        It's as dumb as saying one of those stupid "dogs" that bimbos like Paris Hiton carry around are guard dogs.

        Its actually way less dumb than that metaphor. I agree with your first sentence, but the second is a perfect example of quitting while you're ahead.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:27AM (#16151684)
        In Australia, we have stingrays guarding us from pests.
        • OK, that was really low. :0
        • by Brickwall (985910)
          In Australia, we have stingrays guarding us from pests.

          In Korea, only old people use stingrays as guards.

          • by inviolet (797804)
            In Australia, we have stingrays guarding us from pests.

            In Korea, only old people use stingrays as guards.

            In Soviet Russia, fish use you to guard for toxins.

        • And yes, it was funny. I realise he was some kind of Australian national hero, but so was Ned Kelly. If winding up alligators while holding your child is the way naturalists normally behave, I would be extremely surprised. He was certainly no Dian Fossey, and if plenty of taseless jokes encourage people to just leave stingrays alone, instead of (as some Australians seem to be doing, for some sick reason) maltreating them - well, it would be a good thing. At least Australia will now have a high profile Darwi
      • by Jason1729 (561790)
        That wasn't fair.

        It's an insult to bimbos.
      • >stupid "dogs" that bimbos like Paris Hiton carry
        I think you'll find Paris is the dog's pet, not the other way around.
  • by Monkeys!!! (831558) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:28PM (#16151498) Homepage
    How do we know this isn't a red herring by some terroist group?

    *ducks and runs*
  • Fishing? (Score:3, Funny)

    by atomicstrawberry (955148) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:28PM (#16151500)
    Does this mean that if you go fishing you're aiding terrorism?
    • Re:Fishing? (Score:5, Funny)

      by ultranova (717540) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @01:35AM (#16151809)

      Does this mean that if you go fishing you're aiding terrorism?

      Yes. You should get your fish from a market. Preferably fish imported from Japan. If you are self-sufficient in some respect, you are destroying the pillars of mutual dependence on which current capitalism and world economy are built.

      Besides, the fish are not privately owned. You are benefiting from public property. Which means that:

      When you're fishing, you're catching communism !

      • Re:Fishing? (Score:5, Funny)

        by atomicstrawberry (955148) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @01:43AM (#16151819)
        Communism and Terrorism? All we need now is a flimsy excuse for protecting our fish from the horrors of child pornography and we'll be set!
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Communism and Terrorism? All we need now is a flimsy excuse for protecting our fish from the horrors of child pornography and we'll be set!

          I have heard that hardcore fishermen like to assault fish in schools.
        • Are you kidding? There is sea life that not only mates under 1 year of age, but sometimes actually changes gender! I'm expecting a Focus on the Family talking paper any day now. Don't tell them that some frogs are transexuals as well. It all started with Janet Jackson's nipple. I don't remember any of this crap happening before we had aureolas on the boob tu... well, on the television.
  • good idea! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Wizzerd911 (1003980) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:29PM (#16151502)
    Well when you think about it, they're really just super complex biological machines that built themselves so they're the perfect solution...except in my area that is. We may have the 2nd most terror targets in the US but the only thing the fish are telling us so far is that you "should not exceed eating two in one year." Looooots of PCB's in there. Terrorists could dump all sorts of stuff in there and we could be pulling up two headed fish without thinking anything was out of the ordinary :P
    • We may have the 2nd most terror targets in the US

      According to the DHS system of accounting for targets, that means you have the world's largest fair along side the world's largest petting zoo?
    • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:44PM (#16151558) Homepage Journal
      I think there may be a little extra Mercury in the fish supply. All the fish have grown little moustaches and started singing about champions and radios.
      • I think there may be a little extra Mercury in the fish supply. All the fish have grown little moustaches and started singing about champions and radios.

        It's way worse than that. I just met GWB on the White House lawn. He said the CIA is reporting unusually many sightings of fishy A'rab looking fellas in San Francisco sporting goods stores buying scuba gear. The CIA, FBI and the NSA are now convinced that task-force 'Bluegill' has been infiltrated and that the terrorists infiltrators plan to spike the San F

  • by B3ryllium (571199)
    The name is Pond. James Pond [imdb.com].
  • by Mydron (456525) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:35PM (#16151524)
    [Blugills] are no use against other sorts of attacks -- say [...] an attack by computer hackers on the systems that control the flow of water.
    So, is this news for nerds or not?
  • Not likely method (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:39PM (#16151541) Journal
    Using cyanide to poison drinking water for a major city? It would be easy to catch the guys, they'd be the ones dumping the tanker truck full of cyanide.

    Plutonium would work much better.
    • by kestasjk (933987)
      If they had plutonium, would they use it to poison a water supply?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by arivanov (12034)
        Using it as a poison does not require any technical knowledge and is quite effective. While not as poisonous as some mercury compounds or pesticides, it is still poisonous enough to have effect. In addition to that, the howling of the media about Pu discovered in drinking water will provide the terrorists with what they want even if nobody dies. Go and try to explain Joe Average that the concentration is so low that it will not do a thing. As far as he is concerned it is plutonium. Scary stuff.

        On the subjec
        • by ultranova (717540)

          Now, I have not followed advanced in this area, but what exactly will these fish do if someone pours a tanker of something that is the opposite in thermal specificity. Something harmless for coldblooded animals which kills warm blooded only?

          Keep the water temperature in the test tank around 37 degrees Celsius ?

          • by arivanov (12034)
            The bluegills from the setup in the article will not survive it. In fact very few species of fish will. Even tropical swamp species like Gurami prefer to have the temperature under 32 for most of the time.
        • by morie (227571)
          Also, the water supply would probably spread low level radioactivity over a lager area than any bomb could. And the radiation effects are far worse if the radioactive compound is ingested. It will be impossibly hard to clean the area. I should stop before anyone actually thinks this is attractive.
    • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @02:48AM (#16151935)
      Plutonium is toxic, that's true.

      But the descriptions you hear all the time about how one gram can kill a bazillion people assumes that each person gets exactly a lethal dose and no more.

      In reality, this is difficult to do. Plutonium, for example, is not soluble in water and is very heavy. So distributing it through the water supply would be very difficult.

      If you drop a bit in the water supply, it'll just sink to the bottom in the first eddy it reaches and sit there, killing only things that come near it instead of the intended targets. It might kill nothing except a few rats.

      http://www.llnl.gov/csts/publications/sutcliffe/ [llnl.gov]
      • Yeah, I think it's unfortunate. I think Ralph Nader was perpetrating that statement. I think he was trying to shut down a mission to Saturn or something like that that had a nuclear reactor. The problem is that the general scientific consensus is that the nuclear reactor in the deep space probes would have survived the Challenger explosion intact.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by zerocool^ (112121)
        ...one gram can kill a bazillion people...

        Plutonium, for example, is not soluble in water and is very heavy...
        ... So, does a gram of plutonium way more, or less, than a gram of feathers?
      • by debrain (29228) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @08:22AM (#16152843) Journal
        It might kill nothing except a few rats.


        Or turning them and four baby turtles into ninjas, heros in a half-shell so to speak, which grow up to be a crime-fighting team of pizza-loving mutants.
  • OH MY GAWD! (Score:5, Funny)

    by BLAG-blast (302533) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:40PM (#16151545)
    Fish are peeing in our water supply!!!!
  • E-Mail, eh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrNonchalant (767683) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:40PM (#16151546)
    The computerized system in use in San Francisco and elsewhere is designed to detect even slight changes in the bluegills' vital signs and send an e-mail alert when something is wrong.
    From: The Bluegills <bluegills@tank1.resevoir2.dopw.sf.ca.us>
    To: Bob Thompson <bthompson@dopw.sf.ca.us>
    Subject: Our Contract

    Dear Bob,

    We don't want to seem ungrateful and we appreciate all you've done. However, it has just come to our attention, and our solicitor's attention, that our job is to test the water for poison. In light of this we'd like to renegotiate. We're looking forward to hearing back from you ASAP concerning this issue.

    Sincerely,
    Tim, Ed, and Bill
    The Bluegills
    • Apparently the Department of Homeland Security failed to realized that they just put British bluegills in charge of our national security. (No red-blooded American bluegill would refer to their personal pondscum as a "solicitor" -- sharks are "lawyers" here, except when they're sharks) Ahh well, could have been worse... at least when the going gets tough I'd trust the British with my back. But if DHS' next bright idea is poison-sensing frogs, well, I'm marching on Washington.
  • by hullabalucination (886901) * on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @11:48PM (#16151571) Journal

    At the other end of the issue, we've used animals as agents of destruction in some pretty weird ways. Probably everybody here has heard of the U.S. Navy's experiments using dolphins or porpoises as a delivery system for below-the-water-line bombs targeting ships. The weirdest I've ever heard of was the Army's Bat Bomb project during WWII:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat_bomb [wikipedia.org]

    Does anyone here watch the History Channel (North America)? Didn't they run a documentary on this project a couple of years ago?

    * * * * *

    My goal is to someday be the person my dog thinks I am.
    --Unknown

    • During the American Revolutionary War, enemy spy would head toward a powder house with a squirrel in hand-- tie a piece of paper to a squirrel's tail, set the paper on fire and release the squirrel near the powder house. At this point the squirrel would go running for cover into one of the powder house air vents, and ignite the gun powder in the powder house.

      (Or so I recall from history class)
    • This is not an urban legend

      I saw the episode that you're talking about last week. The idea seemed crazy at first, but after some research they were able to craft incredibly effective incindiary devices that were small and light enough for the bats to carry. They were so effective that when several experimental bats escaped, they promptly flew towards some of the buildings at the test facility (in Arizona or New Mexico, I belive) and wound up burning most of it down.

      The idea was to outfit the bats with t
  • by Durandal64 (658649) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:00AM (#16151608)
    "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."
    -George W. Bush, Saginaw, Mich., Sept. 29, 2000

    Give credit where credit's due.
  • by !splut (512711) <<sput> <at> <alum.rpi.edu>> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:11AM (#16151638) Journal
    That reminds me of a similar article:

    SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- A type of person so common that practically every American who ever attended grade school has probably harassed one is being enlisted in the fight against terrorism.

    San Francisco, New York, Washington and other big cities are using computer geeks -- also known as computer nerds or slashdotters -- as a sort of canary in a coal mine to safeguard the internet.

    Small numbers of the geeks are kept in cubicles supplied with Mountain Dew and a broadband internet connection from local internet service providers (ISPs), and sensors in each cubicle work around the clock to register changes in the breathing, heartbeat and browsing patterns of the geeks that occur in the presence of internet attacks.

    "Nature's given us pretty much the most powerful and reliable early warning center out there," said Bill Lawler, co-founder of Intelligent Automation Corporation, a Southern California company that makes and sells the geek monitoring system. "There's no known manmade sensor that can do the same job as the computer nerd."

    Since September 11, the government has taken very seriously the threat of attacks on the U.S. internet. Federal law requires nearly all internet service providers to assess their vulnerability to terrorism.

    Big cities employ a range of safeguards against chemical and biological agents, constantly monitoring, testing and treating the water. But protection systems for electronic networks can trace only the hacks they are programmed to detect, Lawler said.

    Computer geeks -- a hardy species about the size of a normal human being, but thinner and paler -- are considered more versatile. They are highly attuned to internet integrity, and when exposed to even brief internet outages, they experience the geek version of coughing, compulsively reloading browser windows and pinging gateways to determine the source of the congestion.

    The computerized system in use in San Francisco and elsewhere is designed to detect even slight changes in the geek's vital signs and send an e-mail alert when something is wrong.
  • PETA & SPCA (Score:3, Funny)

    by aalu.paneer (872021) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:12AM (#16151643)
    Won't PETA & SPCA complain?
    • Just let them volunteer to replace the bluegills. Then we can let the bluegills go.
    • Re:PETA & SPCA (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Techman83 (949264)
      No.. eco extremists only care about "cute" animals....
      • So true... Same goes for saving electricity. If I leave a lamp turned on in winter for a few moments in an empty room I'll get an eco bitch screaming about wasting power. Yet, they seem to have no problem when they leave their computer on for a long time when it is not being used (sleep mode? Or maybe at least turn off the monitor?), and don't even mention to turn off the power connection when it is turned off.
  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:16AM (#16151653) Homepage
    Using animals as sensors to detect contaminants isn't exactly a new idea. Coal miners have been using canaries to detect coal damp and other noxious gases for at least a century. The only new thing is using fish instead of birds. Nice idea, though, and a lot more cost effective than trying to design something sensative enough to be useful.
    • It's also not exactly new when it comes to water processing plants.

      The city of Zurich [zuerich.com]. uses trouts to check for problems with the processed water for (literally) decades. A few hours before the processed water hits the distribution system and the pipes it is piped through a fish tank with said trout. The fish tank is under constant stream and the trout swims against the stream.

      If something , er! fishy occurs the dead or knocked out trout passes a sensor and raises alarm.

      This of course is not the only me

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by fatmal (920123)
      The only new thing is using fish instead of birds

      Yeah, when they tested the water using birds the only conclusion was 'That must be REALLY poisoned water!'
  • by ArizonaKid (893047) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:26AM (#16151682)
    As someone who grew up in New Jersey, there were many lakes that had those little guys swimming all over the place...

    And there isn't a change in hell that I would drink any of the water in those lakes. Those fish are survivors, and although I am not a scientist, I could only conclude that the fish in the lakes nearby had to have gone through some type of resistant mutation... That really doesn't help my confidence in the safety of the water.

    I say use goldfish. Those little bastards take one day of me forgetting to feed them to go belly up.
  • "Fishkill" test (Score:5, Informative)

    by Barbarian (9467) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:30AM (#16151691)
    This is also pretty standard for treated industrial wastewater--take a sample from the outflow on a regular basis, send it to a lab, and they stick fish in it and see how many die within 24 hours. Some setups even have a small side stream so that you can get results in real time.
  • whether the municipal water people can tell if a bluegill is tripping on LSD?

    Or, for that matter, viagra. [angelfire.com]

    (If anyone feels like responding "your can't trip on viagra" - that depends on how big the pill is, and whether you're looking where you're walking.)
  • Not the first (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ross.w (87751) <rwonderley@@@gmail...com> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:44AM (#16151716) Journal
    This was done in Sydney 15 years ago, when they still drew their water supply via an open canal. The Water Board had identified a risk fronm the canal that wound its way through teh suburbs and was very easy to get access to, so they put in a fish tank connected to the canal to pick up anything toxic that might have found its way into the water. In this cas the fish were Macquarie perch (I think).

    There was a video camera trained on the tank and the operators in the control room could cut off the canal if they noticed the fish were dead.

    There was a guy whose job it was to feed the fish and run the dechlorination system that removed the chlorine from the water going into the tank, since that's also toxic to fish.

    One weekend , he forgot to top up the sodium thiosulphate solution that was used for this purpose, and all the fish died from chlorine poisoning some time on Sunday night when it ran out.

    That was bad enough, but it was Monday morning before the operators noticed.

    They don't use that system anymore. The canal has been filled in and there is a pipeline and a fully filtered treatment plant.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ForestGrump (644805)
      Slightly off topic, but a related story.

      I took an environmental law class once, and the guy who taught it used to work county health or something.

      In California, there are a few ways of determining if somethning is toxic, and one of the ways is to put the suspected agent into a fish tank with an "indicator species" of fish and wait a few days to see if the fish live or die. If the fish die, then the suspected agent is thus toxic.

      Well, one time he was infront of a judge explaining the test, and presenting th
    • yeah, we all know, it's been done before. [wikipedia.org]
  • bluegills? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) <patrik@vanostaeyen.gmail@com> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @12:58AM (#16151739) Journal
    I would have picked piranas and crocodiles. The bluegills just let you know the water is poisend after which you have the large expence of finding and trialing the terrorist. My system makes it very easy: The terrorist are the little pieces of pirana feces floating in the water. Or the guy stuck in the tree above the crocodiles. Either way we save at lot of money.
  • by SendBot (29932) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @01:21AM (#16151774) Homepage Journal
    This thing with the fish sounds great and all, but I'm worry about my 4th amendment rights being eroded by little birds telling my government things.

    At least I can count on moles to uphold le resistance.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd like to humbly bring to your attention the little known fact that the threat to your water supply hardly comes from terrorism, but rather from industrial toxic spills. The fish are not fighting terrorism but protecting environment (please read the cited case for a good example). I am very sorry, I'm not trying to diminish the heroic efforts of your patriotic fish in anyway, they are still doing an important job. But dear allies, please try to remember that not all the bad things come from abroad in a fo
  • Polluters are equated to terrorists now? Brilliant! So we won't need any Erin Brockovitches to get some justice to these bastards - we can just ship them off to Guantanamo when a bluegill dies. About time, too.
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @01:57AM (#16151843)
    OK, I'm fine with the idea of protecting people's water supply. But to say this is part of the fight against terrorism frankly, is ridiculous.

    ISTM that each time "terrorism" is included as a reason to improve public safety, it's just assisting the terrorist agenda by keeping them inthe news and instilling fear where it didn't previously exist.

    Better to celebrate the improvements that progress brings, rather than trying to keep everyone cowering in fear with cheap, sensationalist news copy.

  • by archeopterix (594938) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @02:06AM (#16151864) Journal
    I've read an article about clams used for the same purpose - they might be even better than fish, because they speak binary (clam open/clam clammed up) and don't move so much, so it's easier to monitor them automatically. The system in question raised alarm if more than a preset percentage of the clams clammed up. I cannot find the original article, but here's a short press note [sgnis.org] about a similar system that I found:
    Delta Consult, a Dutch company, markets a water pollution monitor that uses live zebra mussels as sensors.

    The product uses changes in mussels behavior - as determined by monitoring shell movement through electromagnetic induction - to detect water quality changes. The mussels are glued to the device.

    Delta Consult reports that the system can detect low concentrations of tributyl-tin oxide, chlorine, crude oil and such heavy metals as copper, cadmium, selenium, zinc and lead.

    The best part of the system is that the mussels are replaceable - but you must supply your own.

  • Are these fitted with Laser on their heads? :-)
    By the way this news is too old. I read it in print media couple of daze ago.
  • by tomatoguy (545272) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @02:12AM (#16151870)
    of a technique used by water-testing labs. Trout and Daphnia are used in the lab I consulted to once. For things with a higher ppm range trout were used, and for lower ppm concentrations Daphia (which are barely naked-eye visible) are used. The waterborne equivalent of canaries in coal mines.
  • The entire terror angle is complete crap. Chances of terrorism causing problems in the water supply are infinitely smaller than those that happen through other conscious and unconscious human action and the so-called Acts of God/Nature. Diesel spills are an environmental problem. Raw sewage in the water intake because of excessive rain are Acts of God/Nature etc etc. These things will be the majority of your problems. The great thing is that if you can detect these, you can detect terrorism.
  • The city of Zurich (Switzerland) has been guarding its drinking water for the last 30 years with trouts.
  • by houghi (78078) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @04:06AM (#16152105)
    Is this some lame attempt to link terorism to the problems cause by the farming and other industry? "Anti-terror" It soubds as if somebody is crying "Wolf" all the time.
  • Where's Inspector Gill [wikipedia.org] now that we need him?
  • Did anyone else find this line funny ?

    <i>... hey are no use against other sorts of attacks -- say, the bombing of a water main, or an attack by computer hackers ... </i>
  • Can detect a very wide range of compounds, can be completely automated.

     
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by KillerBob (217953)
      The problem with a spectrometer is that the more you have in the substance you're testing, the harder it is to detect a single substance. It's not like every chemical has a single line that shows up on a spectrometer scan... actually, everything has several lines that show up. The more complex a substance is (and the heavier the atoms that make it up), the more lines appear. Pure Iron (Fe), for example, has 43 lines that show up on its spectrum. And drinking water isn't pure H2O. Not by a long shot... pure
  • Bluegill A: HEARTBEAT nil, BREATHING non-existant, SWIMMING PATTERN bobbing along the top of the tank

    Bluegill B: HEARTBEAT lub but still waiting for the dub, BREATHING laboured due to lungs hanging out of mouth, SWIMMING PATTERN thrashing about madly next to the castle

    Bluegill C: HEARTBEAT n/a, BREATHING n/a, SWIMMING PATTERN n/a
    Please note: Bluegill C exploded


    Conclusion: Possible contamination of drinking supply? Will ask for second opinion when Shift Manager returns from holiday
  • ... in many cities in Europe. This is reliable, cheap, and very, very sensitive.

  • I love this. It's the modern equivalent of having a soup taster for the King. We think we're sooo clever.

    I also like the article's forced effort to explain how the fix cannot stop the bombing of a water main or the release of germs which target humans. Clearly, the system is insufficient due to those limitations and must be replaced with a hundred million dollar project. LOL.

    It's the canary in the coal mine.

    Hazmat team joke: "How do you know if a scene is IDLH? (Immediately Dangerous to Live or Healt
  • by griffjon (14945) <.GriffJon. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday September 21, 2006 @08:13AM (#16152792) Homepage Journal
    Does this mean we can carry water bottles on planes again -- if they have bluefish swimming in them?

  • by nasor (690345) on Thursday September 21, 2006 @11:00AM (#16154130)
    "There's no known manmade sensor that can do the same job as the bluegill."

    This claim is absurd on its face. Who told him that? The guy who sold him the fish? He's obviously not an analytical chemist. Things like high-resolution mass spectrometry can detect cyanide, diesel fuel, mercury and pesticides at parts-per-trillion levels, far lower than anything that could ever possibly have any sort of detectible biological effect on a fish. There is no way that a fish is going to be effected by a nanogram/liter concentration of mercury, but a good mass spec would be able to see it.

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