Too Many Sharks

by Humberto Fontova

Sure enough! The chorus has started! As little Jessie Arbogast clings to life in a Pensacola hospital and his stricken family (including one HELLUVA(!) gutsy Uncle. My humble salutes to you, sir) shuns reporters, the shark “experts” are weighing in, trying to calm us middle-American yokels:

“You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than of being attacked by a Shark.” That’s Gary Violetta, Curator of Fishes at Florida’s Sea World.

“You have a better chance of winning the lottery than of being bitten by a shark…shark attacks are very very rare. They mistake the bather for a fish.” That’s shark guru George Burgess of the International Shark Attack File.

Shark “behaviorist” Erich Ritter of the Shark Foundation refuses to even call the Jessie Arbogast incident a shark “attack.” He insists on calling it a shark “accident.” I swear.

You see, according to Herr Ritter, who was born in Switzerland and holds a P.H.D. in “Behavioral Ecology,” “the shark was not reacting specifically to the boy….These animals are very smart, contrary to how many people believe them to be stupid, brute killers,” he said. “Jessie’s case was very unusual. Bull sharks don’t normally behave that way. They usually bump..then determine that it’s not their normal prey, then swim off.”

Tell it to Chuck Anderson of Robertsdale Alabama. Last summer just a few miles west of Ft Pickens Chuck was chomped on the hand, then again on the stomach, then got his arm ripped off by a Bull Shark. And tell it to my chum Max Smiley of Baton Rouge.

“All I saw was an open mouth with lotsa teeth and two eyes coming up at me!” he says of a dive trip off Grand Isle Louisiana a few years back. “Water was kinda murky that day. I was right behind the boat ..Then I saw him shooting up outta the depths. Just had time to aim my speargun and crunch the trigger!”

Max is a shark “expert” too, Herr Ritter — an expert SHOT! His aim was good. A picture shows Max smiling triumphantly next to a 300 lb Bullshark, with a steel shaft between his eyes. “I stoned that sucker, Humberto.” Max chuckles between swigs from a Bud. “Lucky shot, really.”

Those experts would just love the picture. Anyone who thinks these shark “experts” are impartial scientists needs a look at their websites. After all, according to Peter Benchley himself, ” Sharks are “wonderful creatures. The killing of a shark is a moral travesty.”

Dr Erich Ritter says “hear-hear” on his Shark Foundation website. His professed goal is, “to change the negative Jaws image of sharks. They are fascinating fellow lodgers of our planet fighting for their survival.” His site even includes a “horror gallery.” It shows — prepare to be horrified — people fishing for sharks! With the caption: “machos need the victory over sharks as an ego booster.”

On his website Dr.Burgess of the International Shark Attack Files even tells us why we fear sharks more than other predators. “The large cats and bears are extremely susceptible to a rifle and “problem” (his quotes of course) animals simply have been eliminated, leaving many of these species endangered.”

“Ooaah…. poor things.” You can almost hear poor Dr Burgess choking up there towards the end, lamenting that he wasn’t in a position to speak up on their behalf , to enlighten that African tribesman who saw a lion drag his wife off by the neck that the poor beast mistook her for a gazelle, to inform the Burmese yokel that the tiger crushing his daughters vertebrae with one bite coulda sworn she was a wild pig.

Mistaken identity, always mistaken identity — these wizards tell us. Tell it to the elephant “apparently crazed by thirst” according to the account in the book Shadows Under The Sea, who ran into the Indian Ocean off Kenya and started paddling out. He made it a hundred yards and was hit by a big shark. Guess the elephant looked like an anchovy to him, hunh Mr Burgess?…anyway, the blood started flowing. Then another shark showed up, eyes-wide and licking his chops. — I guess this one thought the elephant was sardine, hunhn Mr Ritter?

He ripped into the elephant and more blood gushed. The waters reddened. The current spread the delectable news like the breeze spreads the smell from Mom’s kitchen on Thanksgiving.

“The perfect killing machine” some call sharks. And they swarmed in for the task. The wild splashing and thrashing of the terrified pachyderm rang like a dinner bell for any sharks with sinus blockages that day. They surrounded and ripped into him like hyenas on a lame wildebeest, chomping, shaking and tearing, leaving him a lifeless hulk of head, tusks and bones in hours.

Imagine that on video! Make Animal Planet look like an evening with June and Ward Cleaver. Even put pro wrestling to shame.

Anyway, no, Shark Bambifiers, it’s not us middle American yokels who need the lecture; it’s YOU and your greenie ilk. We don’t consider sharks “evil.” By and large we’re still Christians. We know Sharks can’t choose between good and evil. Free will is a human characteristic. Not an animal one. It’s YOU people who came up with the “rat is a pig is a dog is a boy ” piffle. Starting with the idiotic movie Bambi, (it didn’t start with Eisner, folks) it’s YOU who equate animals with humans. It’s YOU in need of the lecture. So spare us, please.”

Oh….and speaking of “machos needing the victory over the shark as an ego booster.” If the good Dr Erich Ritter coulda seen my chums Peter Cheramie and Todd Breaux scuba diving around an Offshore oil platform recently.

Pete was closing in from a big grouper’s blind side, speargun aimed, heart-thumping, and trigger finger twitching. Any hunter knows how Peter felt. Stalking — closing on unsuspecting the prey — is what really gets the predatory juices flowing. And Pete had to get close.

Remember Sonny Corleone talking to Michael about wacking out police Chief Mc Cluskey? “Mikey, whaddaya think this is?” He says with his arm around him. “The Army? Where ya shoot them from a mile away? Here, ya gotta get right up on him — Blam!! And there’s brains all over ya new suit.”

Scales and blood anyway, in our case. But Peter still had another twenty feet to go just as his leg jerked back violently. Something had him. “What the!” Something had latched on to his fin with a death-grip and was jerking him HARD!!

Peter jerked his head around and saw it was his dive-chum Todd Breaux, still pulling on his fin, bobbing his head, blowing bubbles like crazy, and pointing hard with his speargun to his left. “Well Humberto,” he says. “There it was. There’s that German U-Boat they say was sunk out here in WWII. But it was MOVING! I mean that thing looked like a submarine on the other end of the rig — HUGE!! “

It was a shark. Pete’s been diving for over twenty years. And sharks — big ones — are a common sight off Louisiana. Pete’s even stalked and stuck a ten-foot Hammerhead. “But THIS thing!” Pete gasps.”THIS thing had to measure fourteen feet and weigh 1200 pounds! I ain’t kidding! And man, lemme tell ya. I forgot about that grouper fast. “

They’d never seen a shark like this one out here. “He wasn’t a Bull or Tiger. His nose wasn’t that blunt, it was kinda pointed. But he didn’t have the right color for a Mako, which also has a pointy nose. So this kinda narrowed it down to — I don’t wanna sound crazy here, I’ve spent an awful lotta time underwater in that Gulf with sharks and stuff — but we kinda…kinda….kinda think — it was a Great White.”

Great Whites are indeed a rarity in the Gulf. A few were caught off Cuba, one in the Keys a few years back. But that’s it — doesn’t mean one couldn’t show up out here. Divers have been finding stuff that the “experts” say “isn’t supposed” to be out here for decades now. Hell when you consider that Killer Whales show up off Louisiana, anything’s possible, really.

They sat on the crossbeam, trembling spastically, gasping out bubbles, scared, fascinated, awed — you name it. “I looked over,” Pete chuckles. “And Todd’s eyes were plastered to the fronta his mask. Big as Cue-Balls! But shoot, he says the same thing about mine. And I can believe him. We kept looking at each other, like asking: “Well? What now? Who’s gonna take him?”

“He looked just like those sharks on the Discovery Channel, those close -ups ya know,” says Pete as they watched the huge creature — wider than the very steel beams they sat on — swagger through the blue water right under them.

Terror slowly gave way exhilaration — excitement gave way to awe..and then awe finally yielded to another and more powerful instinct — indeed the one that brought them down here in the first place.

Todd Breaux finally succumbed. With his heart pounding at his very throat, with adrenaline flooding his veins, he locked his eyes onto his prey, cocked another band and started finning into position, set to indulge his primal passions. “Go back to Australia if ya wanna pose for yuppies in cages with their cameras,” Todd thought. “You’re off Louisiana here, Podnuh. Prepare to rumble.”

The Shark wizards on Discovery always refer to sharks — and great Whites especially — as “the ultimate” predator, the “Apex” Predator, the “perfect killing machine.” Maybe off Australia he’s the “ultimate predator”. Off Louisiana he’s up against Cajuns. He’s in a sorry second place I’m afraid.

Soon Todd was right over the shark, aiming down and ready to sink this staggering message deep into the monster’s head with a steel-shaft.

Hunter Thompson called it: “The Edge, the place where the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration.”

Todd Breaux sure knows about this place. He was smack in it’s adrenaline-pumping, temple-throbbing, gut-freezing center as he maneuvered into position over the shark, aimed down, and curled his gloved finger tightly around the trigger….

“A person never feels so alive as when he walks in the shadow of his doom,” wrote Hemingway. Todd was smack in the middle of that shadow, living five years in the five seconds it took him to draw a bead between the eyes of the huge brute below him. “Man if EVER I needed to get a good shot!” Todd recalls. “If EVER I needed to aim carefully — THIS was it.”

The shark finned slowly along. And why not? He never flees from anything. He’s never been prey before. “Who the hell would mess with me?” said his slow swaggering gait. Then he started turning to look up, that big hooded eye alerted by the shadow above him — just as Todd crunched the trigger — FLUNK!!

“That spear slammed into his head” recalls Todd. “And sunk deep! That big sucker stopped and shuddered — shook his whole body. It was incredible — a sight I’ll never forget!”

“For a second there,” says Peter.”I thought he’d gotten a kill shot! Thought he’d stoned him! I said Awww-Right!

“I was gripping that speargun with both hands like a vice-grip” recalls Todd, “almost crushing it, almost collapsing the metal handle. I said man, here we go! Off to the races now!”

Those guys in the shark cages with the cameras know what Peter was looking at. “His mouth was WIDE OPEN, man! I could see row after row of teeth! That shark was just shaking back and forth — his mouth wide, Teeth all over the place!…then we hear this “snap!” What ..the? Well that huge sucker just SNAPPED the steel speargun shaft like a toothpick!…and off he went! Like nothing had happened!”

The brute got away, Dr Burgess. Happy? He escaped to chomp another day, Dr Ritter. Happy? But hey, like I told Todd: it’s the thought that counts.

The shark wizards always shun the primary explanation for the increase in shark attacks recently: MORE SHARKS!!

But don’t take our word for it. Hell no! We’re not the “experts,” you see. We’re just out in the Gulf every freakin week, fishing and diving. What the hell do we know?! Right?! EVERYBODY (except the “experts”) have been hooking and seeing more sharks than ever in the Gulf recently.

Put that in your “endangered-species” pipe and smoke it.

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