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Pals With Sharks

by Humberto Fontova

Remember Jessie Arbogast? He was the little boy who got his arm and half his thigh ripped off by a Bull Shark on Pensacola beach last July. The 8-foot shark came stalking into the shallows where little Jessie was splashing around, hit him, then swallowed the severed arm. His uncle somehow grabbed the shark, wrestled it ashore, and pulled Jessie’s arm from it’s gullet.

Jessie lost almost all the blood in his body and was rushed to a hospital in a coma where his arm was re-attached. He has just started to mouth words again. His brain was deprived of oxygen for too long, it appears, from the blood loss.

Animal rightists sprung quickly into action. They were frantic. Millions of brainless yokels throughout the land might get the wrong idea and blame the shark, you see. Just like us to overlook u201Croot-causes.u201D

u201CWould you give your right arm to know why sharks attack?u201D asked a PETA poster last July. u201CCould it be revenge?u201D

Damn right it could be revenge. Certainly off Louisiana, where we blast, spear, stab, hook, gaff, blow to smithereens with power-heads, buckshot and assorted magnums…..mangle, pummel, bludgeon, skin, fillet, cube, marinate, skewer and grill everyone we can get our hands on.

But Florida (with all it’s Beltway immigrants) is different. These enlightened people dutifully report, capture and relocate, u201Cnuisanceu201D gators. Here in Louisiana we blast, behead and u201CBar-B-Cueu201D gators. No u201Cnuisanceu201D at all. Damn tasty in fact.

Florida has an equally progressive approach to u201Cnuisanceu201D sharks. They didn’t invite Louisiana’s Helldivers, Sea Tigers and Bayou Bandits over to remedy the problem with their spearguns and grills. This would have cost them a few kegs of beer, at most.

Instead, they invited Shark expert Dr Erich Ritter P.H.D. to u201Cconsult.u201D Ah, that famous word again. I’m convinced that u201Cnever in the course of human history has so much been spent by so many and something so worthless and idioticu201D as on consultants.

Anyway, if you thought little Jessie was u201Cattackedu201D by that shark, well then you’re a tabloid reading yokel. Dr Ritter knows better, and unlike you, he has a P.H.D. in u201CBehavioral Ecologyu201Dfrom the prestigious University of Zurich. He’s part of the Shark Foundation, who’s website pleads to, u201CStop the senseless slaughter of sharks!u201D and where you can — for a modest fee — actually u201CAdopt a Shark,u201D and get photos of the cuddly creature. They know the Arbogast incident was a regrettable u201Caccidentu201D on the Shark’s part.

They know that the poor beast was overwhelmed with remorse right after he swallowed Jessie’s arm. You see, according to Dr Ritter, "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. When you lose your fear, you begin to see what a magnificent creature he really is."

Dr Doolittle has nothing on Dr Ritter who explains: "we are trying to develop a body-language system to build a bridge to the shark, to try to trigger favorable reactions rather than the wrong ones…..we can swim with a pack of hungry sharks and do it safely. There really is nothing to worry about, because you quickly discover that sharks are not mindless monsters."

Except, perhaps, the one who ripped half of Dr Ritter’s leg off last week in the Bahamas. Yep, and while the Discovery Channel’s very cameras were rolling. Naturally someone with Dr Ritter’s views partners well with the Discovery Channel, who’s website features cute little "Kenny the Shark" who teaches kids that :

u201CHumans kill thousands of sharks a year on purpose and sharks just a handful of humans a year, and these by accident."

The Discovery Channel was featuring Dr Ritter in a program about how to properly u201Cinteractu201D with sharks. Indeed, he was right in the middle of demonstrating how he could — -by controlling his heartbeat — -interact safely with a school of them without triggering any hint of aggressive behavior on their part when one rushed in, chomped down, and interacted the good Doctor’s leg right into his gullet. Dr Ritterwent into shock from blood loss and lies in hospital as I write.

I prefer my chum Artie’s method of u201Cinteractingu201D with Sharks. He prefers a 12-gauge power-head BA-LOOOOM!! My ears are still ringing from his last interaction with a big Mako 100 ft under the Gulf. I shot my spear in the jerking, twirling monstrosity and hauled him up.

A power-head makes you feel like you’re strutting around with a 44 magnum on your hip — a la Dirty Harry…A big Mako swaggers by eyeing your stringer of snapper…..He swings close and your eyes meet in a steely stand-off as you draw a bead on his head….."I know what you’re thinking, punk." You growl. "Does this guy have a power-head on the end of his speargun shaft? Or just a regular point? Well ya know, in all the excitement I kinda forgot myself. But being as this might be a 12 gauge magnum and it can blow that big ugly head right off……You might ask yourself : do I feel lucky today — Well do ya, PUNK?!"

I did a little interaction with the Shark myself, on the fillet table and with the lemon butter sauce on the grill. Then we tapped the keg, popped open the white wine for the gals and about 40 hungry guests interacted up a storm. Magnificent creature indeed! We appreciate sharks too, Dr Ritter.

PETA even flew airplane banners over yokel-infested beaches in Florida last summer reading: u201CDangerous predators in the water……You?u201D

The women all saw it first. Maybe PETA members are different, but while lying on the sand with a brewskie on Florida’s Miracle Strip not many of my chums have their eyes focused skyward. The Thong bikinis aren’t up there, nor the heaving, bouncing little tatoos.

My helpful wife jerked the binoculars from my face and redirected my gaze though, and I can still show you the bruise…After the pain subsided somewhat, I shifted the ice-pack, looked up, and said: u201CHunh??u201D

That’s a shrewd bunch at PETA. I don’t think they wanted to compliment us. But flying over a Florida Panhandle beach notoriously infested with beer-swilling rednecks and cajuns (fanatical hunters all) and calling them u201Cdangerous predatorsu201D….That’s like me flying a plane banner over Mailbu beach or Martha’s Vineyard saying : u201CEcologically-aware, gender-sensitive, diaper-changing, socially-conscious fellows sipping wine on their verandas this evening….you?u201D

Grilled venison sausage, grouper Ceviche and wild duck-k-bobs were depleting rapidly on our section of beach. So the response to the pane-banner was deafening: u201CFREAKIN-EY!!u201D We shrieked. u201CYou’re GODDAM RIGHT we’re dangerous predators! WHOO–HOO!u201D… And so on.

Much whooping, beer-hoisting and high-fiving. Then we grabbed the binoculars and resumed the serious business of scanning the beaches, and quickly alerting each other to any hint of an approaching Thong bikini.

Humberto Fontova [send him mail] holds an M.A. in History from Tulane University. He’s the author of Helldiver’s Rodeo described as "Highly entertaining!" by Publisher’s Weekly, as "Terrific!" by Salon.com, and as "Just what the doctor ordered!" by Ted Nugent.

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