Illustration by Will Johnson

It’s easy to see why zoologist Achille Valenciennes in 1847 named the tarpon Megalops atlanticus — “Atlantic big eye.” Indeed, at close range, a 100-pound tarpon’s golf-ball-sized eye, with its massive, gold-rimmed pupil, is mesmerizing. Imagining what that eye has taken in through decades of pan-oceanic migration plunges you into the subterranean, a realm only slightly more familiar to us than space.

But to dwell on the eye alone is a disservice to a creation of exceptional design and beauty. In comparison with the smallish, delicate head of, say, a rainbow trout, the tarpon’s head is oversized, industrial and blocky. All heavy machinery and nearly devoid of soft flesh, it is entirely plated bone, emblazoned with an iridescent veneer of silver, gold and bronze. This is the stuff only millions of years of evolution could have wrought. It is a head befitting a king — the silver king. 

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