Shark Week

by Humberto Fontova

Here we go again. "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel. I gotta hand it to the show’s producers. They’re in an bind. They know how you get good ratings on U.S. TV: you scare people. So they’ll revel in slow motion footage: the cruel hooded eyes, below them rows of huge serrated teeth that chomp, twist and rip child-sized chunks off some ox carcass. Vicious killers, these sharks.

But wait! What about Discovery’s greenie philosophy? Man and only man is earth’s foremost wanton murderer. So the tut-tutting and moralizing kicks in.right after they scare the pants off viewers. Discovery’s website even features an interview with "Kenny the Shark" for kids!

Here’s what they learn from cute little Kenny: "That humans kill thousands of sharks a year on purpose and sharks just a handful of humans a year, and these by accident."

"That more humans are killed each year by bee stings or lightning than by sharks."

And finally," that sharks and people can really share the planet since most prejudices we have towards each other are the result of ignorance."

INDEED!! Let’s start with Discovery’s ignorance. Exhibit A. They base their "handful" of attacks a year on the International Shark Attack File, which is a bad joke, except for reported attacks in the developed world.

This file shows almost 200 shark attacks off Florida in the past ten years. They show 44 in Australia, 57 off South Africa — chicken feed.

And only a tiny percentage of U.S. attacks are fatal. Off Australia, South Africa or California Great Whites mistake you for a Seal. They charge and chomp your surfboard in half, along with your torso. Or they just look up, see your appetizing silhouette dog-paddling on the surface and rush up and grab you like a huge bear trap, then shake their heads like a terrier with a big rat.

Except terriers don’t have hundreds of triangular teeth half-an-inch long with serrated edges like a Ginzu knife, or a mouth the size of a manhole, or the strength of a rhinoceros. The effects of a deliberate shark attack — that is, a shark that sees your entire body and is intent on eating you whole — are ghastly. Blood and shredded flesh cloud the water. They shake, tear, shake, then they let go for a second. They turn around, come back and grab again. Crunch!-Wham!-Shake!….a few more shakes — like a bulldog with a rag doll. Now your body’s in several swallowable portions.

Ah, that’s better, he says. He relaxes, opens wide — Chomp, Chomp, Chomp — ummmm! And you’re gone. That’s a Tiger shark now. A Great White tries to swallow you whole.

Down here in Louisiana it’s different. No seals down here. We ate them all after finishing off the Manatees — no seriously. Our sharks, the white-tip, Sand Tiger, Tiger, Hammerhead, Mako and especially, the Bull are primarily fish and ray eaters. They grab your arm thinking it’s a mackerel, your leg thinking it’s a jackfish or your head thinking it’s a stingray — because he can’t see the rest of you.

These Sharks grab — ooops! then let go. The sanctimonious Shark "experts" always consulted by the reporters in these articles try to console us with the notion that: "These attacks are very rare. In this murky water these sharks mistook the arm or leg of the bather for the baitfish that school near shore this time of year," or some such bullshit.

Gee, thanks. That’ll really console me when I’m flapping around like a chicken with my head inside a Bull shark’s mouth. "No need for alarm here! Poor misguided creature simply mistook my head for a blowfish!"

"We heard him SCREAM through his snorkel." told me freediver Eddie Hayes of Houston about an interesting dive last summer off Louisiana. "And I mean LOUD! A scream of terror." Eddie was on his boat 20 miles off the mouth of the Mississippi below New Orleans, watching his buddy snorkeling behind the stern, stalking the Wahoo and Tuna converging on their chum line. "We looked over and I froze with shock!"

"We look over and that huge shark had his head three feet outta the water! " Eddie says. "His mouth was WIDE open, jerking back and forth. His bottom jaw snapping away, trying to bite my dive buddy in half!" No mistaken identity here, my friends.

The only thing that saved his buddy was his speargun, which he’d jammed — and just in time — into the monster’s gaping, cavern of a mouth when he charged him from his blind side as he snorkled near the surface. Like a picador whose lance keeps the bull away, the diver’s speargun kept the shark away — kept that mouthful of serrated teeth out of range of his abdomen. Then it was off to the races as the Shark kept pushing.

"He musta been going at five knots." Eddie gasps, "just pushing Kurt along, halfway outta the water, in a huge rush of foam and water. We were speechless, frozen. This stuff ain’t supposed to happen! Kurt finally grabbed the float line we had hanging from the backa the boat just as we snapped out of our stupor. All three of us on board grabbed the rope and started pulling like crazy. We got Kurt out — without a scratch. Unbelievable."

Kurt had been attacked by a huge Mako. Makos aren’t even supposed to attack. At least according to all the shark "experts." The International Shark File didn’t have any Mako attacks listed. And this one’s not listed. I heard about it from several reliable sources at a local marina.

The book, Savage Shore deals with Nicaragua’s Miskito Coast and claims that in the area "every village has had family taken by bull sharks."

That so? Well, you’ll search those International Shark Attack File’s in vain for any Shark attacks off Nicaragua. And these are the statistics all those shark "experts" always cite to placate us, proving my point: it’s reported attacks from developed countries that make it in the file, which is great for the sanctimonious eco types from these same countries,(and their new allies in the tourist industry.) They can wag those skimpy figures in our face next to their fingers during the inevitable sermon: "see how rare shark attacks are, you buncha hysterical tabloid reading yokels? Bee stings and lighting kill many times more people annually than Sharks. There’s no need to go on a crusade against these noble, caring, nurturing creatures…. blah, blah, blah — or to cancel your hotel reservations…."

So what? I say. Many more people are exposed to bees and lightning than to sharks, for God’s sake. And for a far longer time. The evidence seems to show that when human prey float around big hungry sharks for any period of time the sharks snatch them.

This evidence involves shipwrecks — and it’s harrowing. Take the Indianapolis. The U.S. Navy cruiser that delivered the components of the Hiroshima bomb to Tinian and was torpedoed by a Nipponese sub on July 30th 1945. 800 of it’s crew made it from the inferno of sizzling metal, boiling oil and roaring flames into the water alive.

It took a day for the first rescue plane to sight them. "The water was turning red" reported the pilot. "I could see the long, dark shapes in the water next to the men….the thrashing…"

After four days of floating around, 316 men survived.

Much worse was the Nova Scotia, the English troopship crammed with Italian POWs that was torpedoed November 1942 off South Africa. Of 1042 men who hit the water, 850 perished. "half taken by Sharks" according to survivors.

The Phillipine ferry boat Dona Paz was packed with 4000 commuters when rammed by an Oil Tanker in 1987 off Manila. 25 people survived. The boat exploded and caught fire so most fatalites probably weren’t from sharks. But according to Phillipine authorities a few days later, "300 shark-mutilated bodies washed up."

You’ll never convince me that places like the Phillipines and Indonesia with it’s thousands of miles of tropical coastline and millions of people don’t have hundreds of shark attacks a year. It’s just that nobody reports them over there. Not one is listed in the International Shark Attack File for the same period.

And we could probably quintuple the ones from Florida if we include the Florida Straits. It’s estimated that for every Elian that makes it safely to shore, four of his desperate compatriots perish at sea like his mother. Roughly 40,000 have made the crossing in the past 30 years. (I’m talking rafters here. Not the Mariel boat-lift) It’s an ugly thing to contemplate — especially for me, a harrowing thing to put my calculator to. I’ve know some of these people, and believe me, the last thing on their mind when they hit the shore is calling some newspaper to report a Shark attack. Almost every account of "balseros" (rafters) I’ve read mentions sharks harassing them along the way.

But nobody would believe them anyway probably. Heaven knows you can’t believe those hysterical Cubans.

Why back in early 1959 a few came over and told U.S. officials that Castro was no "democratic-socialist" but a dedicated Communist who was filling all positions in the Cuban Military and government with Reds and Cuba would soon be a Soviet satellite."

"Ha-ha-Hee-hee!" snickered U.S. officials. "Do they take us for idiots! These sneaky Cubans are obviously trying to provoke a U.S. intervention so they can reclaim their plantations and mansions! Well, we’re not falling for it — not for a second!"

Two years later a few more of these wild-eyed hysterical Cubans snuck out and told of Soviet Missiles being installed in Cuba.

"Ho-Ho!-Hee-Hee!" U.S. officials scoffed again. "These Cuban refugees are shameless! They’ll stop at nothing to try and provoke a U.S. intervention so they can reclaim their mansions and plantations! Gotta hand it to em though. They’re imaginative."

That same year some flake was handing out Fair Play for Cuba flyers in downtown New Orleans. By chance, he chose the front of a little store named "Casa Cuba" for his propagandizing. The store was owned by a recent Cuban refugee. This gentleman (my uncle)had just lost all his earthly possessions to the Communist government and some relatives to it’s torture chambers and firing squads. The "Fair Play" advocated by the hawker sounded suspiciously like an official pronouncement from Castro himself — and he was quite familiar with these, believe me.

Well, a discussion ensued.It turned heated and the hawker soon found himself under a hail of fists and on the verge of having to swallow his brochures. Between "Ommps!" and "Ows!" he yelped at a nearby cop for succor and soon both he and my uncle were hauled off to jail.. The event became a local media sensation and a radio debate between the antagonists followed, where my uncle proclaimed that this fellow he’d pummeled and was now debating — this fellow named Lee Harvey Oswald — was a dangerous Marxist. He’d seen his type and heard their gibberish often in the old country.

"Ho-Ho! Hee-Hee! Those crazy Cubans again!" roared the liberal press. "They see commies under every bed! They seem to forget McCarthyism is over!"

A few months later this Lee Harvey Oswald fellow made even bigger headlines and all the media sages sounded a lot my uncle. Not one offered an apology.

Humberto Fontova [send him mail] is author of the highly recommended The Helldiver’s Rodeo.