Loretta

Loretta

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

Loretta

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small: All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.

Mrs. Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander, 1848

Wylie Costain seemed destined to save a life.

When I met Wylie in the summer of 1999, he had already lived in British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada, for twenty years. Born and raised in the east, on Prince Edward Island, Wylie knew the harsh realities of a fisherman’s life from experience.

I had flown to the Squamish airport in a light aircraft. Planes were stored in the open hangars, but I saw no one about. The flying club was locked and the airport seemed to be devoid of human life. I was thinking of walking into town when a pickup truck drove up.

“How far is it to Squamish?” I asked.

“Eight miles,” came the answer. “You’ll have a heckuva walk. Wanna lift?”

Without hesitation I said, “Yes!”

“Wait a minute,” I added. “I’ll have to get back to the airport.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that. I’ll bring you back. Hop in.”

“Sure you don’t mind?”

“Not at all. Hop in!”

That’s how I met Wylie Costain. As we drove, Wylie told me an incredible story, backing it up with a couple of newspaper photographs. In 1988 his company, the Atlantic Lobster Company, a wholesaler in Burnaby, British Columbia, had requested large lobsters from the east coast to supply restaurant clients. When they arrived, one of the containers had only a single lobster in it instead of the thirty it normally holds, but what a lobster it was!

Once in town, Wylie stopped at his apartment and returned with two photographs. They showed the largest lobster I’d ever seen—in fact, it weighed twenty-one pounds.

Wylie estimated seven years for each pound. Her twenty-one pounds translated into the age of 147 years. She hadn’t lost a claw or a leg during her long life, and she didn’t have any scars or scratches from previous battles. In the photograph, she looked perfect.

Someone discovered she had eggs and was still productive. Wylie said that at first he saw only the money the lobster would bring: “Oh boy! That’s worth a bit!” But then he began to fight with himself. He thought of her age and the many offspring she must have had, and she seemed to take on a beauty he could not describe. He named her Loretta.

Wylie went on with his story. “Loretta was so old she really deserved to go back in the sea.” I nodded in agreement as we drove on.

“I couldn’t bear the thought that she’d end her life on somebody’s dinner plate. So I decided to free Loretta.”

I listened in astonished silence. “But she’s an Atlantic lobster and would’ve died here in the Pacific.” He tried to offer her to the Vancouver Aquarium, but the response of the curator of fishes at the time was that the aquarium wasn’t “a half-way house for unwanted pets.”

“I didn’t know how I could pull this off,” Wylie continued. “I only knew Loretta had to go home to the Atlantic, so I called Canadian Airlines to get the price of a ticket. I explained I was taking a live lobster home to the Atlantic Ocean, and the lady said they couldn’t allow it.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Well, I called the Vancouver Province and told the story to somebody there. The next thing I knew, a reporter and a photographer showed up at my plant in Burnaby. When I told them the airline wanted nothing to do with me, the reporter called them. He must’ve convinced them ’cause they called and offered Loretta and me a free ride there and back. I had her put in a special container with lots of ice in the cargo hold, and that’s how she flew.”

From Halifax, Nova Scotia, Wylie and Loretta travelled to the village of Lockeport, where Loretta was probably originally caught.

It was July 1—Canada Day. Wylie, Loretta and some of Wylie’s Nova Scotia friends set out to sea aboard a fishing boat. It was a pleasant, calm day. Wylie took Loretta from her container, held her close and tenderly stroked her back. Loretta’s tail curled under and straightened out several times.

“That’s the way she hugs,” Wylie explained.

Then he gently placed her below the surface and let her go. Her tail flicked, the water splashed and she was gone.

“Good-bye, Loretta,” Wylie said, a little choked up. “I’m glad you got back home.”

Manuel Erickson
Langley, British Columbia

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