The question: Do bananas really bring bad luck to a boat?
Background: Where does the taboo come from?
There are many theories as to where the "bad-luck-banana" superstition got started. Some people think it began back in the colonial shipping days, when trade vessels brought bananas from the New World across the Atlantic to Europe. Bananas spoiled quickly on board the boats, and so the ships had to travel fast; this pressure on speed may have led to riskier and more disastrous voyages. Alternately (and less sadly) the speed also meant that the boats had less time to stop and fish, which may have led to the association between bananas and low fishing success.
Other theories focus more on the cargo than the voyage. Historically, creatures like spiders and snakes would stow away in banana cargo, and so it may have been that captains started the rumor to keep banana crates off their boats. Another theory is that because bananas give off ethylene gas as they ripen, they may have caused other food to spoil quickly in the cargo hold, resulting in their unpopularity on boats. One story from Hawaii says that bananas packed by fishing tribesman would spoil at the same time that the men paddled too far out for good fishing, hence their association with poor fishing.
Whatever its origins, the banana taboo is here to stay in angling culture; some fishers even extend the taboo to include anything associated with bananas, such as banana boat sunscreen or banana republic clothing. I for one have many friends who would be exceedingly angry were I to sneak a banana on board their boat, and anecdotes relating bananas to poor fishing days abound in Florida. So when as a student I was asked to design a study for a course I was taking, it seemed the time was ripe to set the records straight.
The Design: How do we test it?
To test this study I first needed fishers, so I recruited the help of two awesome volunteers (thanks to Mike Crandall and Geoff Smith). Each angler was given a 5'6" fishing pole, a bag of hotdog bait, and a kayak. The fishing took place at Watson's pond, conveniently located at the University of Florida's Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences center (aka my work backyard). On the back of each kayak sat a cooler, labeled either "A" or "B"; cooler A contained 4 bananas, while cooler B contained bottled water (this was our control cooler, and was filled to make sure the weight was the same so that the guys fishing didn't know if they had the bananas or not).
|Watson's Pond, the anglers and their coolers (treatment and control)|
At the "go", each willing dude fished from his kayak for 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes were up, the coolers were switched, and the anglers fished for another 15 minutes. We did this whole set 2 more times, for a total of 3 runs (6 trials overall, with 3 for each fisher).
Results: What did we find?
Crazily enough, the results from this study do suggest that bananas are associated with lower fishing success! In fact, in 5 out of the 6 treatment blocks more fish were caught with the control than with the bananas. When statistical testing was applied (in this case, what is called a paired t-test), the difference between bananas and no bananas was significant. (Note: we also counted "bad luck" occurrences, things like losing a fish or a hook, as well as compared fish size, and none of these was different between the two treatments).
Discussion: So what does this mean?
So does this mean the superstition holds true? Are bananas actually bad luck on boats? Well, we can't really say for sure yet. This study ran only 6 trials, which is an extremely small sample size, and I for one am not ready to give up my bananas. It may be that if we repeated it again with more trials, or for longer fishing periods, we would no longer see a difference. What do you guys think? Any volunteers?
Image from: http://c3.ac-images.myspacecdn.com
Brincefield, J. 2008. The story of bananas and bad luck. Chesapeake Bay & Atlantic Ocean Charter Fishing. Available: http://www.azinet.com /captjim/bananas.htm. (October 2010).
Gillman, R. 2010. Bananas legend. Nobananasfishing.com. Available: http://www.nobananasfishing.com/bananaslegend.html. (November 2010).
Phillips, A. 2006. Forbidden fruit. Washington Post. Available: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/content/article/2006/06/03/AR2006060300185.html. (November 2010).
Ronca, D. 2008. Why are fishermen superstitious of bananas? How Stuff Works. Available: http://people.howstuffworks.com/fishing superstition1.htm#. (October 2010).
Roldan, J. 2010. So what about those bananas? Available: http://www.tailhunter- international.com/bananas.htm. Accessed November 2010.