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Island of the Sharks
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Close Encounters
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Whale shark and divers Whale shark and divers.

Size Matters
In December 1816, I commanded a small Spanish brig, and was lying at anchor . . . at the entrance of the Bay of Manilla. One day, about noon, hearing a confusion upon deck, I ran up, and looking over the side, thought, from what I saw, that the vessel had parted and was drifting over a bank of white sand and coral . . . I called out to let go another anchor, but my people, Manilla men, all said "No Sir; it's only the chacon!" and upon running up the rigging, I saw indeed that I had mistaken the motion of the spotted back of an enormous fish passing under the vessel, for the vessel itself driving over a bank! . . . From the view I had of the fish, and the time it took to pass slowly under the vessel, I should suppose it not less than 70 or 80 feet in length. Its breadth was very great in proportion; perhaps not less than 30 feet. The back was so spotted, that, had it been at rest, it must have been taken for a coral shoal, the appearance of which is familiar to seamen.
one of the earliest descriptions of a whale shark (its size likely exaggerated), from an article by a Captain H. Piddington in the 1835 Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal





Whitetip reef shark at Cocos Island Whitetip reef shark at Cocos Island
Frenzy!
A harpu cod of around 15 pounds swam towards the corals over the glistening white sand. Without warning, it was suddenly attacked and seized by a white-tip shark, which then attempted to flee with its struggling prey. This was the signal for the orgy to start, and the sharks exploded into a frenzy of activity. They simultaneously rushed the white-tip and converged into a circular ball of whirling, viciously snapping animals. It was an incredible sight, and there was an audible roar as would be made by a distant express train as it thundered over a metal bridge. I could see open jaws furiously tearing at flesh, twisting and ripping at anything in sight. Sharks rushed from every direction to join the melee, and within a matter of seconds two hundred or more sharks were locked in a life-and-death struggle. They formed one solid mass of living and dying muscle and flesh, completely oblivious to pain and no longer responding to the primitive instinct of survival.
from Sharks: The Silent Savages, by Theo Brown (Little, Brown: 1973).




Basking shark Basking shark

Basking in Space
During June, 1948, whilst hunting in Loch Brolum-Shiant islands area I recorded the following incident. The weather was fine with bright sunshine and a light southerly wind and excellent visibility. I was in the wheelhouse "conning" the catching vessel and leaning out of the open side window conversing with a member of the crew . . . . Suddenly, at no more than 30 yards range a huge shark (i.e., 25- to 29-foot class) leapt into the air, the entire fish being clearly outlined against the sky. Whilst in mid air the shark gave a pronounced twist or wriggle of his entire rear portion from the dorsal fin tailwards, whereupon he fell back upon his flank into the sea with a resounding smack and splash. He disappeared in a shower of spray and foam . . . .
description of a breaching basking shark, from a letter by a Captain Harry Thompson published in the 1951 Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London





Hammerheads Hammerheads
Swimming with Hammerheads
It took more than a year of searching to find my first school of hammerheads, the one at Espiritu Santo [in the Gulf of California]. My colleague Don Nelson, of California State University at Long Beach, recreational diver Ted Rullison, and I spotted some swimming at the surface near a rocky island. We quickly donned scuba gear and scrambled into the water. But when we pursued them, the sharks dispersed.

The next day we returned to the spot. Swimming about 75 feet from the boat, Ted suddenly shouted, "They're here, and hundreds of them, too." Realizing that we may have previously frightened the hammerheads with our noisy scuba bubbles, we entered the water without air tanks. This time we could make out the shapes of 50 or more sharks swimming just below us, circling above the peak of an underwater seamount. We held our breath and swam downward. Soon we were within the school, with large sharks above, to the sides, and below us. Exhilarated at finding them, we were also somewhat apprehensive; no one knew whether the hammerheads would attack. Instead, they seemed to accept our presence.
from "Hammerhead City," by Peter Klimley, Natural History Magazine, October, 1995




Tiger shark Tiger shark

Armed to the Teeth
It is apparently difficult to keep tiger sharks alive in an aquarium for very long, but in April 1935, a 14-foot specimen found tangled in a fishing net and placed in the Coogee Aquarium, Australia, survived for a week and acquired instant notoriety by suddenly regurgitating most of the contents of its stomach: a smelly brown scum in which floated the remains of a rat, a dead seabird—and a human arm with a piece of rope round its wrist. The still largely undigested limb bore a tattoo of two boxers and had belonged to a well-known member of the Sydney underworld, James Smith, who had mysteriously disappeared. It had evidently been severed before the shark swallowed it and, when the unfortunate tiger died three days later, it was opened up to see if it contained any other grisly evidence of what was obviously a gangland killing, but the stomach proved to be empty.
from Sharks of the World, by Rodney Steel (Facts on File, 1985).
Photos: (1) ©Amos Nachoum/INNERSPACE VISIONS; (2,5,9) ©Doug Perrine/INNERSPACE VISIONS; (3) ©Ben Cropp/INNERSPACE VISIONS; (4,8) ©Howard Hall; (6) ©Michele Hall; (7) ©Tom Campbell/INNERSPACE VISIONS.

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