The Pufferfish Theory


There was a time when I was obsessed with catching fishes using my bare hands. This is about the time when I first caught a pufferfish.

I was around 7 years old when my hobby and obsession was catching poor small fishes swimming around the cemented walls of the main river in my hometown.

I gained expertise in knowing what types of common fishes were easy to catch. I usually didn’t bother with the fast or the boring colorless ones. I targeted the tiny little estuarine species that are slow or those that love sticking to the walls like kitang and badong.

One day, an unfamiliar striped fish was swimming within my event horizon. I trapped it with my small hands and caught it in few seconds with no sweat.

“That’s buteteng laot!” says my friend. “It’s difficult to catch. I’m surprised you did.” she added.

And then she showed me something amazing about this fish. She tickled its belly and it started to gather air and balloon up! What a mind-blowing evolutionary instinct!

When I threw it back to water, it floated (of course!). When it felt safe enough, it exhaled the excess air, turned back to normal size, and escaped from the human predator. Fantastic defense!

It was a fascinating discovery and I learned even more things about the pufferfish but what was tattooed on my brain was the statement that it was ‘hard to catch’. Days, weeks and months have passed, I encountered several pufferfishes during my hunt but with the mindset that it should be difficult, I never caught one again, ever.

So in grade school I was guided by the wisdom that I learned from the pufferfish that goes like: “If you believe it’s hard, it’s gonna be so damn hard!” or something…

… yet two decades after, I was able to hold a buteteng laot again, a huge one this time, so I probably need to revise the old wisdom and replace it with a new theory that goes something like:

If it’s difficult to catch it alone with your bare hands, get a damn long fishnet and grab a dozen people help to you with it!


A pufferfish that fishermen caught using a long fishnet in Puerto Galera, Philippines. We freed it back to the ocean after. They’re not really the favorite dish of the locals.


Fun Facts About Pufferfishes:
  • They are among the most poisonous animals in the world
  • They have large teeth that’s quite similar to humans’
  • They’re usually sent back to the sea because they have no use to local fishermen
  • They have external spines that can only be visible when they blow up, some species have bigger and longer spines
  • It’s called fugu in Japan where it’s a local delicacy.
  • There are licensed Japanese people who specializes in taking out the poisonous parts of the fish so it will be edible and non-toxic to humans


Locale: Puerto Galera
Country: Philippines
Year: 2015
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