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Posts Tagged ‘great white shark’

great white in the surf

The shark was a torpedo with teeth. She swam the seas in search prey. Her preference was dolphin meat, and she often pursued her quarry into the surf zone.

Bottlenose dolphins are wiser creatures than the great fish. They knew about her presence often before she knew of theirs. All she could do is slip around where the dolphins might be hunting and hope that one slipped up.

On this day, she was working them close to the crystal sand beach. Every time, she thought she might get the drop on a dolphin, another dolphin would raise an alarm and they would swim around her, mobbing her, almost taunting her, until she slipped back into the depths.

Hunger was starting to take its toll, and now she began to work the surf once again.  Her black eyes noted something whitish pink and smooth suspended in the rushing water.

Her shark brain asked “Could that be something to eat?”

And she swam over and tested the pink thing in her mouth. When she bit down, the blood gushed everywhere. But the meat had no fatty taste to it, so she let go when she felt the quarry slap her.

She then swam back into the depths, scenting the water again for that delicious odor of dolphin.

What she had not known on this first sultry day of May on this desolate beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks is that she had bitten a person, the son of a wealthy corporate lawyer.

The young man screamed in terror. He had been wading alone in the surf, hoping to make communion with the local pod of dolphins. He felt that thing brush up against him and then the hard pressure of the bite. Then the flowing of red blood.

His right butt cheek down to his right thigh was hanging open and bleeding, and how he managed to swim with that much blood gushing from his body no one really could fathom.

He made it to the foamy line where the white water splashes on the crystal sand.  He landed hard on the compacted earth and groaned in agony.

His girlfriend found him five minutes later as she came down to walk their obese golden retriever on their private beach. He was sent to the hospital. Hundreds of stitches and blood transfusion were his treatment.

In week, he knew that he’d met the sea monster and had lived.

The biting had happened. The great torpedo fish claimed a victim without knowing anything other than she’d bitten into something quite disgusting.

And she was two hundred miles away when the young man’s family finally got together and took stock of the situation.

The father believed he should sell the beach house and buy a nice cabin on a quiet mountain lake, were the largemouth bass rose in the April sun and the ducks sat fat upon the shore.

The mother believed they should keep the house at the beach, but under the condition that no one ever go into the water deeper than the waist.

The young man had no thoughts on the matter. He had not expected to be bitten. It felt like something so random, so strange, that he didn’t know what to think of it all.

Yes, the bite had harmed his hide. But he was going to live, and although he felt physical trauma, he was oddly at peace with the whole thing.

The shark had bitten in error, not in malice. He had seen enough nature documentaries to know this fact, and the odds of it happening again where somewhere in the winning the lottery category.

But the victim can try to reason with those who see the aftermath and still not be able to assuage their concerns.

The father had called up the department of fisheries in hopes that he a posse could be assembled to wipe out such large sharks from the waters. When he found that the great whites were protected in these waters, he was filled with bellicose anger.

He paid for that spit of sand, and now, the government was telling him he could not protect his property and family from sharks?

He called everyone he knew in the world of government. They listened as intently to him as they would anyone with potential to flip out some campaign money, but nothing was done.

The laws were the laws, and what’s more, every single expert told him that the shark was long gone.

Man has this odd tendency to take personally the banal violence of nature. The young man had come to the realization that this was not a personal attack at all, but just an accident of predation. The father never could accept this reality.

He put the beach house up for sale, but the sell did not go through until the July of the next year.

The young man didn’t tell his father what he was going to do, but on the last weekend hte house remained in his family’s hands, the young man went to the beach. He slipped on his rash guard and wandered into the surf.

He hoped to make final contact with the dolphins. Yes, that was certainly a goal.

But he also wanted to make peace with the sea monsters, the ones that still stubbornly hold onto their domains despite ourselves.

The dolphins came at high tide to cavort among the surf and hunt baitfish. He felt their echolocation against his skin once again. He felt at peace in the saltwater.

And he felt the true humility of a human in the sea. The ocean suffers the onslaught of our civilization in such horrific ways, but it still exists undominated, uncontrolled.

And that briny wilderness is an affront to those who worship in our domination, but it beguiles those who see it as the last redoubt of unblemished life.

And the young man felt that sublime beguilement and felt the warm water rushing around him.

And he then left the sea to the ancient struggle of dolphins and sharks, which he hoped would go on long past his mortal existence as a man on this earth.

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megalodon

I lived through that great Shark Week debacle in 2014, when the usually fairly reputable Discovery Channel showed this bizarre pseudo-documentary called Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. I believe I watched all of five minutes of this monstrosity, and I knew that the thesis posited in the film, that there really still are Megalodon sharks swimming the seas, would be taken as fact by a certain percentage of the credulous public.

If such an animal really does still live in the ocean, then small to medium-size craft could be endanger at all times, but of course, no real evidence of late surviving Megalodon has ever been produced.

Indeed, when this documentary came out, I was quite aware that some shark specialists were doubtful that these large sharks survived into the Pleistocene.

Well, we now have some really good evidence, based upon an extensive re-evaluation of the fossil record of Megalodon sharks, that the species went extinct about 3.51 million years ago. It was previously believed that the species went extinct 2.6 million years ago, and recently, a supernova was suggested as the likely culprit.

However, this new date means that the supernova probably did kill off lots of large marine mammal, but the Megalodon had already been gone for about a million years before the supernova hit.

This new study, published in PeerJ, contends that the species became extinct as the modern great white shark spread over the world from its ancestral home in the Pacific Ocean. Great whites became widespread in the world’s oceans around 4 million years ago, and their spread roughly coincides with the new extinction date for the Megalodon.

The authors contend that the juveniles of the Megalodon were unable to compete with the adult great whites, and because a species cannot exist very long if its young never survive, the great white might very well be the culprit behind the extinction of the Megalodon.

So no, Megalodon doesn’t live. Jaws took it out long ago.

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great white nice doggy

Nice doggy!  

As it is currently construed, the genus Canis includes certain dog-like species, including the dog/dingo/wolf species, the coyote, the Ethiopian wolf, and the jackals. However, recent genomic analysis suggests that this genus is paraphyletic, and it is in need of revision. In order to make Canis monophyletic, one wold have to include the dhole and African wild dog within the genus or create a genus for the side-striped and black-backed jackals.

But as messed up as the genus Canis is now, just imagine what it was like when there was a Canis carcharias.

This name is the old scientific name for the great white shark. “Canis” means dog in Latin, and “carcharis” means sharp and jagged in Greek.

It was never meant to reflect evolutionary relationships between dogs and sharks. Instead, it was just simple common scientific name that was given to this shark. Some early naturalists even used it as the generic name for all sharks, but my sources show that it almost always referred to the great white.

Classifying animals according to their evolutionary relationships is a very new development in science. Before that, animals were given scientific names based upon the whim of the classifier.

After all, before Buffon and Darwin, it was just assumed that all these creatures were divinely created and calling a shark a “sea dog” or “sea hound” made as much sense as using the term Canis carcharias to classify it.

The first person to use the scientific name Canis carcharias was Guillaume Rondelet, a professor of medicine at the University of Montpellier in southern France in sixteenth century.  Rondelet is considered the father of modern ichthyology, for he was the first to describe fishes and other marine creatures using clearly defined anatomical principles in his Libri de piscibus marinis in quibus verae piscium effigies expressae sunt (1556).  In the text, he describes several massive great whites, which the French and Italians called “lamia,” that were captured in Mediterranean. It’s from him that we get the apocryphal story of a great white that was capture with a full suit of armor in its stomach. These sharks were once quite common throughout the Mediterranean, and they were a very real problem for mariners and swimmers in that region. The reason why the French and Italians called them lamia is in reference to a child devouring sea monster in Greek mythology, and they were certainly very well aware of them.

Rondelet tried to describe this shark as something other than a great hulking sea monster. He tried place it as a naturally defined entity, and in this he did science a great service.

However, he lived before Linnaeus, so he didn’t use the Linnaean classification sytem. Canis was not the genus of the shark, and carcharias was not its species name.

It was just a name he divined, and unfortunately, because he was the first to do this, this became the scientific name used for the species for centuries afterward. In the early nineteenth century. Canis carcharias was still very commonly used to refer to great white sharks.

If one performs a simple search in Google Books for the term “Canis carcharias,” one will find any number of commentaries on great white sharks. However, Linnaeus himself called the species “Squalus carcharias” and dropped any reference  to dogs in the name.

And by the end of the nineteenth century, this name had finally fallen from favor.

Richard Lydekker describes “Rondeleti’s shark” in his The Royal Natural History: Fishes and Reptiles (1896.) The sizes are somewhat exaggerated:

The most formidable of all the existing members of the group is the gigantic Rondeleti’s shark (Carcharodon rondeletii), distinguished from the porbeagles by the great size of the broadly triangular teeth, which have strongly serrated edges, and may possess basal cusps. The existing species, which is a purely pelagic creature ranging over all the warmer seas, is known to attain a length of 40 feet, one of the teeth of a specimen of 36 feet in length measuring 2 inches along the edge of the crown, and 1 3/4 inches across the base. Similar teeth are found in the Crag deposits of Suffolk, and are referred to the existing species; but from these same beds, and also from the bottom of the Pacific, between Polynesia and Australia, there are obtained other teeth of much larger dimensions, some of them measuring upwards of 5 inches along the edge and 4 inches in basal depth. These teeth evidently indicate sharks beside which the existing form is a comparative dwarf; and it is not a little remarkable that the specimens dredged from the bed of the Pacific indicate that these giants must in all probability have survived to a comparatively recent date. Observations are still required as to the mode of life and breeding-habits of Rondeleti’s shark. Two other species of large sharks constitute the genus Odontaspis. With teeth almost indistinguishable from those of the porbeagles, these species differ by the second dorsal and anal fins being nearly as large as the first dorsal, and the absence of a pit at the root of the caudal fin, and of a keel on the sides of the tail (pg. 526).

In Lydekker’s time, it was now more acceptable to classify things using Linnaean taxonomy, and he was also trying to place this shark with its closest relatives. The great white is a giant mackerel shark, and he correctly placed it with the porbeagle, a type of shark that is actually quite common in British waters. (I was always told that porbeagle is a portmanteau between the words porpoise and beagle, another canine reference in shark nomenclature. However, other etymologies have been suggested.)

Further, Lydekker was using the new scientific name for the species that had been given to it by the Scottish zoologist Sir Andrew Smith, who had encountered them in his years as a naturalist in the Cape Colony. South Africa  is still a major stronghold for great white sharks, and they likely were more common in the 1820’s and 1830’s when Smith was living there.

The genus name  “Carcharodon” means jagged tooth, and the species name rondeletiirefers to Rondelet, who was the first to systematically describe the species.

However, Rondelet called the species Canis carcharias, so following the scientific tradition of allowing the first discoverer to name the species, we now call the great white Carcharodon carcharias.

It matter not that Rodelet wasn’t trying to classify the great white in the way we do now.

In fact, we really don’t use the same Linnaen system anymore.

We now used cladistic classification, which is why we’re now arguing about how to classify African wild dogs and black-backed jackals in the genus Canis and no serious person would try to call a great white shark a dog.

Great whites are sharks we’ve known for quite some time. They’ve likely attacked humans for thousands of years before we ever had any idea of what they were.

Ancient man just thought of them as evil sea monsters.

More advanced civilizations thought of them as great sea dogs.

And now we know them as amazingly derived mackerel sharks whose predatory prowess is rivaled by few other ocean creatures.

Ranging throughout the world’s oceans, the great white has been one of the most successful species of shark on the planet. Its ability to generate its own body heat has mean that it can travel into quite cold seas in search of marine mammal prey, and they have even been found 4,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.

But now the species is vulnerable.

We’ve killed them by the score. We have thought that if we killed off these sea demons, the oceans would be safe for everyone. Maybe even safe for democracy.

But the truth is the great white does play a vital role as one of the ocean’s top predators.

Without them, the ecosystem falls out of balance, and certain species begin to overpopulate.

We are only just now beginning to realize how important this giant sea dog actually is to maintaining the health of the oceans.

And we may have figured this out before it’s too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amazing footage!

Source.

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Well, there was a great white attack in Massachusetts on July 30.

It was just confirmed yesterday:

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) confirmed on Tuesday that the shark that bit a Colorado man swimming off a Cape Cod beach on July 30 was a white shark. It marks the first confirmed white shark attack in Massachusetts in 76 years.

“Working with George Burgess, the curator of the International Shark Attack File, officials from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries have determined that the injuries sustained by Chris Myers off Ballston Beach, Truro on July 30 can be attributed to a great white shark,” said Reginald Zimmerman, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “This conclusion was reached after examination of the injuries and testimony from Myers.”

Over the last several years white shark sightings have increased off the coast of Massachusetts. DMF researchers have been monitoring and tagging white sharks since 2009.

Cape Cod is home to a relatively large colony of gray seals, which the sharks are definitely hunting.

This part of the country has had very few shark attacks.

Shark attacks aren’t that common anyway, but on the Atlantic Coast, they are virtually unheard of north of Cape Hatteras.

There have been fatal great white attacks in Massachusetts history.

My personal favorite story is the one where a great white took a man off a dory in 1830.

Joseph Blaney rowed a small dory off the main ship and began fishing.

And this his fellow fishermen saw a big fish jump onto the dory.

He fell into the water, and all that was recovered was his hat.

Blaney’s family later went fishing for sharks at that same location in hopes of catching the man-eater.

They caught two great whites, one of which was too big to haul into shore.

Great whites still rarely attack people.

So I don’t think they should call in this guy just yet:

 

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This was the first time this guy ever kayaked!

MSNBC reports:

A first-time kayaker had a close encounter with a great white shark off the coast of Massachusetts over the weekend.

Sunbathers first spotted the shark following two kayakers on Saturday afternoon off Nauset Beach, the Cape Cod Times reported, and yelled to the men offshore.

One of the kayakers saw the shark and quickly paddled in, while it took the other one, Walter Szulc Jr., of Manchester, N.H., a little while longer to notice the dorsal fin just feet away from him.

“There were hundreds of people on the beach, and they were all at the edge, yelling paddle paddle, paddle!” Dave Alexander told the NBC News affiliate in Boston, WHDH.com.

Szulc said when he looked behind him, the shark “was pretty much right there.”

“It was good-sized, it had a fin sticking out, so I just turned and paddled,” he told WHDH.com. It was the first time Szulc had kayaked.

Since June 30, three sharks have been seen plying the waters off Cape Cod for food, the Cape Cod Times reported. The large number of seals in the area is believed to be drawing the sharks.

Orleans Harbormaster Dawson Farber said he and his team went out in a boat to confirm the sighting – he noted the shark was an estimated 12 to 14 feet long — and they had all bathers get out of the water. The beach was also closed.

“Everyone was very relaxed and the shark put on quite a show moving back and forth out in front of the beach, but it was done in a very orderly fashion,” Farber told ABC News.

Witness Debbie Sutton said Szulc “started booking it.”

“You could see the darkness of it,” she told WHDH.com. “It was longer than the kayak … it was crazy big.”

Not all beachgoers were scared by the great white. Some even got into the water at the beach later in the day.

“Everyone wanted to see it,” Karen O’Connell of Medfield told the Cape Cod Times. “There were people running toward it.”

The last shark attack on a human in the area was in 1936, when a man was killed swimming near Mattapoisett, the newspaper reported.

Great white sharks come to New England for a very simple reason:

The New England gray seal population is continuing to grow.  And we all know that great whites are major predators of marine mammals.

Gray seals have made a comeback in the northwestern Atlantic. Both Massachusetts and Maine had bounties on gray seals, and they were heavily persecuted in Atlantic Canada for transmitting the cod worm.

The United States has very strict regulations for protecting seal and sea lions. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 has allowed seals and sea lions to thrive in our waters.

Of course, as they have been able to thrive, so may their predators.

Great whites are currently protected in US waters.

So people are going to be swimming in water that contains a predator and prey dynamic of two protected species.

It’s actually somewhat amazing that these sharks haven’t attacked anyone since 1936.

The potential is there.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

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From the Sydney Morning Herald:

A British man has been mauled by a shark while swimming in South Africa, authorities said.

The 42-year-old man is fighting for his life after the attack by a great white at Fish Hoek beach in Cape Town.

Reports said the man, who is believed to live in the city, was rescued by a bystander after he ignored shark warnings to go swimming.

National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) spokesman Craig Lambinon told the South African Press Association (Sapa): “It appears he was rescued from the water by a bystander who left the scene before we could identify him.

“On arrival, a 42-year-old man was found on the shore suffering complete amputation of his right leg, above the knee, and partial amputation of his left leg, below the knee.”

Mr Lambinon said the victim was believed to live in the suburb of Plumstead.

He was stabilised at the scene and then airlifted to Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic in a critical condition.

Mr Lambinon said: “The man was conscious when paramedics attended to him on the beach, but was sedated on-scene by paramedics in their efforts to stabilise the patient.”

The city of Cape Town told Sapa that, when the man entered the water, the beach was still closed. A shark flag, indicating the presence of a great white, was flying.

A shark spotter stationed on the beach was warned by a spotter on the mountain that someone had entered the water.

So.

The shark spotters tell the authorities to warn everyone.

Everyone gets out of the water.

This man goes in.

Shark eats his legs.

Maybe he thought they were like dolphins.

 

 

 

 

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