Nothing like a big dorsal fin to put a damper on a hot July day at the shore. The Boston Globe reports that a 6 1/2-foot long great white shark has washed up on a Nantucket beach. This comes on the heels of a reported sighting by Martha's Vineyard lifeguards of a big fin off Edgartown's South Beach on July 10th and a confirmed Great White hoax by a 60-year-old man who made up a story about seeing two great whites.
This young shark was the first great white to float ashore in Massachusetts waters in 21 years. Readers of this blog know from what has proved to be one of my more popular posts that there have been only 2 fatal attacks by "probable" Great Whites off the Bay State since 1830, when fisherman Joseph Blaney was pulled from his dory by either a great white or a mako shark in Cape Cod Bay. We do have a resurgent seal population now, thanks to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and these are a favorite food of the Great White, which has never been common in our waters but is certainly is known from here. The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game has many close up pictures, including the one above, taken in early Fall of 2004 of a 14-foot female great white that spent a couple of weeks in a shallow salt pond near Woods Hole before breaking out to open water.
The odds of an attack by a great white off the Massachusetts Islands are extremely remote, and of course sharks are greatly misunderstood and fascinating creatures. Then again, Captain Quint's great soliloquy rather suits the mood:
"Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte... just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn't know, was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin', so we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like you see in the calendar named "The Battle of Waterloo" and the idea was: shark comes to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark go away... but sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark... he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living... until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin' and the hollerin', they all come in and they... rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain's mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon, the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us... he was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened... waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb."
I'm not saying you shouldn't go for a swim. But maybe you should leave this great tune by the late, lamented Boston band Morphine out of rotation on your iPod.
"Sharks patrol these waters
Sharks patrol these waters
Don't let your fingers dangle in the water
And don't you worry about the day glow orange life preserver
It won't save you
It won't save you
Swim for the shore just as fast as you're able..."
Better stick with "Spanish Ladies".