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Ofamirth (aka Taalj)
A smaller (up to 20 ft) inshore predator, the soldierfish is ubiquitous throughout much of Torn World's marine territory. Soldierfish resemble ichthyosaurus, dolphin-like dinosaurs, but with armor plating (like a sturgeon) and a bony ridge down the spine. They navigate with sophisticated sonar and water senses; their sonar apparatus is located behind the head where the body begins to thicken. A long narrow snout sprouts many small sharp teeth. Barbels underneath the snout give the Soldierfish a good sense of taste/smell and also assist in navigation. They breathe water through gills. The eyes are mounted in turrets which can move independently or together, like those of a chameleon, giving the soldierfish exceptional aim for its strikes. It can ram as well as bite; the reinforced jawbone is almost impossible to break, which makes it a valuable craft material.
Soldierfish are fast breeders, producing vast clouds of milt and eggs, which they scatter and ignore. They can tolerate turgid or polluted water. Soldierfish readily take advantage of turbidity or cover to strike from ambush, although in clear water they prefer speed chases. They hunt in schools like barracuda do, surrounding single or schooled prey to attack from all sides. They eat fish, seabirds, marine mammals such as seals, and other sea monsters. Young soldierfish are eaten by various species; the adults are rarely eaten because of their armor plating, though giant sea turtles do prey on them. Females live 100-120 years and males 50-60 years.
Unlike the larger predators, soldierfish will not attack boats, but will go after people in the water. They are particularly prone to tangling in fishing nets while trying to steal the captured fish; then they pose a danger to fishers. They also gang up on larger predators and eat them a piece at a time, in addition to their usual herbivorous prey. A school of these and a school of sharks sometimes trigger a mutual feeding frenzy called a "tooth typhoon."
However, their flesh is delicious and their caviar is a delicacy, so people hunt them back. Soldierfish may be netted, caught with a hook and line, or harpooned through the gills or belly, but their formidable armor deflects most attacks. In some places soldierfish are still a real menace, but in others they have been almost hunted out. Empire sailors will be thrilled to see big fat schools of them in the Northern sound. In winter, soldierfish are a favored target of snow-unicorn rider ice-fishers.
Before Upheaval: Soldierfish were ubiquitous in the oceans and seas of Torn World. Four subspecies formed a clinal arc through waters around the Northern Continent.
Sundered Times: The original subspecies were blocked from each other by time barriers. Remnant populations in some time shards died out. Surviving populations were: northern soldierfish in time shard #1, southern soldierfish in time shard #11 and #30, interior soldierfish in time shard #10 and #34 and eastern soldierfish in time shards #34 and #53.
Modern Times: The northern soldierfish comes in various shades of blue or blue-gray mottled or streaked with white as camouflage in icy waters. It has a shorter, more triangular snout with teeth adapted for chewing ice; it likes to hunt by lurking near air holes in the ice. The profile is notably dish-faced. It spread from time shard #67 into time shard #1 quickly, and the other direction into #63, #62, #61, and #60.
The southern soldierfish comes in various shades of green or green-gray streaked or dappled with cream or black. It has a long narrow snout protruding straight forward, with a slightly domed forehead. Its first population spread from time shard #11 into #6, then #69 and #12; then from #6 into #3 and from #12 into #10 and then into #9. Its second population spread from time shard #30 into #32, #66, and #13; then from #13 and #66 into #14 and #12. Separate populations of southern soldierfish merged on meeting.
The interior soldierfish comes in various shades of rust, chocolate, and tan, usually dappled with cream. It has a long narrow snout that curves down slightly from its face, creating a smoothly arched profile. Its first population spreads from time shard #34 into #35 and #36; then #36 into #27 and from there into #15. Its second population spread from time shard #10 into #9 and #15. Separate populations of interior soldierfish merged on meeting.
The eastern soldierfish comes in various shades of gray joined to a cream or tan belly by extensive blotches or mottling along the sides. It has a short triangular snout with a rise farther behind the head. Its first population spread from time shard #34 into #33 and #53; then from #33 into #32. Its second population spread from time shard #53 through #52 into #51 and from shard #53 into #34. Separate populations of eastern soldierfish merged on meeting.
When two expanding soldierfish populations meet, they do some interbreeding at the edges. The neighboring subspecies are all viable with each other: northern/southern, southern/interior, and southern/eastern. Features tend to blend or intermingle where populations meet. Subspecies that aren't neighbors probably would not or could not interbreed; this makes them clinal subspecies.
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