Fishes of the Deep Deep Sea

The Blue Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei
The Blue Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei

The whole time they were lowering us in the cage into the Atlantic Ocean, I was questioning my sanity. I'm not a big risk taker and even the most securest iron cage between me and shark infested waters wasn't my idea of big fun.

Our hosts from Costa Rica were talking about man-eaters and all I could think about is "does that apply to women too?"

Those "people eaters" looked awfully hungry for more than the snacks that they were using to bait them in for photo-ops. I'm sure they would have loved to get a taste of a bunch of foolish tourists visiting the fishes of the deep deep sea.

The whole time all I could about was a poem that sits in the body of an jaded old love letter. I probably should throw it away. The shark who penned it for me from his self-imposed steel bar cage said:

"The shark prehistoric,

Sweeps in for the kill,

Dynamic and deadly,

He eats only his fill

Then leaves bleeding chunks

To drift toward lesser ends

And swims majestically away

Unencumbered by mate or friends.

For these reasons, men may say,

They hate the shark and fear

Men who live like them

Alive, but not actually here . . . .

And so the question must come,

To every soul seeking to know

If he seeks to create

Or destroy, like his brother below."

Well, I supposed he had a very valid point to ponder. I don't know much, but having swam with the sharks both on land and below the sea -- on this dive I was thinking once I get over my extreme fright -- I'll chalk this experience up to another one I'd prefer to not try again. Both the human kind and sharks of the sea are just a little too cold blooded for my tastes.

Elfin Shark and Frilled Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei
Elfin Shark and Frilled Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei
Basking Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei
Basking Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei

Down in the deep sea is life abounding, strange, and even loathsome, with here and there such radiant beauty as is not to be explained by human intelligence. First, there are the sharks in the family of fish giants. To say that they are the tigers of the deep is not quite true.

The sharks number in the family giants which, like those mammalian monsters -- like the whales -- who are guiltless of offense against man unless themselves attacked by him.

For instance, the whale shark and the basking shark are content with a simple, if extensive, diet of small fish, far out at sea. No man eaters there.

Dogfish Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei
Dogfish Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei

It All Depends Upon Your Name

Another example of sharks who are harmless to man, is the Dogfish. They are sharks also, but they are also harmless to us because they are too small to be deadly. They have been a plague to fisherman preying on fish wanted as human food, breaking the fishermen's lines, and cutting the nets with their sharp teeth. Because they had so unattractive a name they were not regarded as fit to eat.

However, they were later renamed to Grayfish or Rock Salmon. Under that name the dogfish came to land as fish of excellent eating quality for frying. Furthermore, they yield an oil which science says is second only to cold-liver oil. Then, too, their spiny skins once furnished the chagrin of commerce. Old time cabinet makers used it for polishing wood. So not all sharks are as bad as we make them out to be.

Fox Shark -- Also known as the Taresher Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei
Fox Shark -- Also known as the Taresher Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei

Whale Sharks and White Sharks

Many species of sharks are man eaters, find them where we may. The Whale shark of the Indian Ocean sometimes is sixty feet long and is the second largest animal in the world. We may be thankful it is a peaceful beast.

However, the terrible White sharks run to as much as forty feet, with great teeth, not in one row to the jaw, as our are, but row behind row, so that as one set wears down, the one behind moves forward, rendering the shark always fully equipped for battle.

Hammer Head Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei
Hammer Head Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei

Hammer Head Sharks - Jonathan Bird

I Prefer the Harmless Varieties of Shark

Very ancient are the sharks. Their huge frames are mounted, not on a skeleton of bone, as is the case with most fish, but on a skeleton of exceedingly tough cartilage.

When they die little but their teeth remains to attest their past. Taking teeth as a guide, it has been found by deep-sea dredging, that the sharks of olden time were monsters in comparison with which present day types are insignificant. So they, like the reptiles and the former mammals, had their giant age.

While all sharks are carnivorous, not all of them attack man. From the list of offenders we may rule out several.

There is the Port Jackson Shark, common to the seas of Australia, to Japan, and to California.

This is an innocent one, and its teeth, arranged in series, are adapted to crushing up the shells of mollusks and on the contents of these it fees.

The Zebra shark of the Indian Ocean, ten or fifteen feet in length, keeps well out at sea, so it has a clean sheet as far as humanity is concerned.

The Fringed-gilled Shark of Japan is too small to be hurtful to us, as are the three known species of Crossorhinus from the same latitudes.

These sharks have extraordinary leaf-like filaments about their heads. They look like a rock covered with vegetable growth, and unsuspecting fish approach them. They are also harmless to man.

Porbeagle Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei
Porbeagle Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei

Making Sure of a Big Meal

The Porbeagle Shark, so named from its supposed resemblance to the porpoises, is a ten footer, a fish eater with an appetite -- but is occasionally known to assail men.

The Fox Shark, or Thresher, well known in European waters, is a fisherman bold, but thanks to its small mouth it escapes condemnation. The name of thresher it derives from its habit of threshing the water when the shoal which it is pursuing tends to scatter.

A thwack of the long high-lobed tail on the surface of the water and the fish scurry together -- safety in numbers as the herd instinct teaches and are then taken in mouthfuls.

We are left, then, with such demons as the White shark, the Greenland shark, the Blue shark and the Hammerheads -- and the greatest foe of these is the first. As we all know, the mouth of most sharks is placed on the underside of the head. It would be worth while to discuss this curious design if we knew its meaning, but we do not.

It has one blessed result, that the shark must turn over to bite a big object and to that fact many a bold human swimmer has owed his life.

Sharks do not always turn in this way to bite, because it may not be necessary to do so.

The Hammerhead never does, for the reason that its mouth is placed far in advance of the ordinary shark mouth. Indeed, the structure of this creature is unique. The head is broadened out and flattened, expanding on each side into a lobe, each bearing one of the eyes.

However freakish though he seems, the Hammerhead is one of the fiercest of all the sharks and is the dread of every man who is compelled to enter deep water in the Indian Ocean.

The Tope Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei
The Tope Shark - Art by Jerilee Wei

Historically The Shark Record Stands

The records of all the man eating sharks are very horrifying. Considering the sea as a jungle, we must regard the sharks as among the beats of prey, brutes with hyena-like instincts, cowardly, or let us say at least discreet -- in that they will not always attack a man who valiantly kicks out at them in the water, but will have him with fatal sureness if he slackens.

They are scavengers. They eat the foulest organic matter cast into the sea. They have been known to swallow bags, cans, anything. Here is a shark story told by one of our Costa Rica hosts:

"One shark in pursuit of a whale's tongue made a mistake in its intended victim. The whale was one of the sperm species. It opened its mouth as wide as a shark could desire, but took the shark in bodily and swallowed it."

"A little while later the whale was caught and inside the whale was the shark, fifteen feet in length and as lively and vicious as when at large in the sea."

There are many such shark stories, but it is hard to know how much to believe.

Giant Marlin Attacked By Monster Sharks

Japanese Sawfish - Art by Jerilee Wei
Japanese Sawfish - Art by Jerilee Wei

The Terrible Sawfish Cousin of the Shark

After all is said, a shark gives a clean, terrific bite which is swift death. Next door to the sharks in relationship are the Sawfishes. Here we have a huge brute in which the upper jaw is continued in a long, flattened beak, both edges of which are set with dreadful teeth, about twenty on each edge.

This saw is used by the fish to gash open the soft under parts of a whale or a large fish, and to feed on the product of the attack. Or, it may kill many small fish in a school.

As the giraffe delivers an amazing sidelong blow with his horns, so the sawfish with a corresponding movement of his saw can cut a man in half. We often see these implements of sawfishes in museums.

Fifteen Foot Sawfish


More Fish Stories

I've known a lot of old fishermen, and perhaps the story about Saw-fishes that stands out most in my memory is Old Man Papadopoulos'Panama Bay story. As best as I can remember, in 1923 a party in Panama Bay had an adventure with Saw-fishes which would have sent the old time seamen frantic with superstitious alarm. He claimed:

"One sawfish which was taken on a baited fourteen pound steel hook bolted with it it like a harpooned whale. It dragged the fishing boat at a great pace for a quarter of a mile."

"In doing so, it approached the steam yacht owned by one of the party. The owner cast a rope on to the vessel, where the rope was attached to a capstan to prevent the Saw-fish from pulling away."

"However, the fish was by no means mastered. It hauled at the rope, dragged the yacht from its anchors, and towed it hither and thither for three hours. Eventually it was conquered, drawn inshore and landed. It proved to be twenty-nine feet long, nineteen feet round and weighed two and a quarter tons."

According to Old Man Papadopoulos later a female Sawfish was caught in the same waters. She measured thirty-one feet long, twenty-one feet around and weighed almost six thousand pounds.

He also claimed that he saw one shark in the same waters that weighed over seventeen hundred pounds, with jaws so large that two men were able to stand upright back to back, and a hammer head shark weighing three-quarters of a ton.

Photo credit: Janet Welch
Photo credit: Janet Welch

Do You Know?

Only one in one thousand animals born in the sea survives to maturity.

Tiger Shark - Photo credit: Janet Welch
Tiger Shark - Photo credit: Janet Welch

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Comments 25 comments

ralwus 6 years ago

You are a crazy lady braver than I. great hub, loved it.

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks ralwus! I've been accused of being crazy more than once :D

Nancy's Niche profile image

Nancy's Niche 6 years ago from USA

Thanks for sharing your under water adventures. Frightening, I bet---but oh, what a unique and beautiful world lies beneath that ocean…

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Nancy's Niche! I think I have a morbid fascination with it, still it is sooo beautiful and serene.

Pachuca213 6 years ago

I loved this! I have always wanted to go diving with sharks (cage diving in Australia or south Africa)...Sounds like a lot of fun to me. I watched the Marlin Video, its amazing that the shark tore him apart so completely. The head of the Marlin alone looked almost as big as the the shark that ate the body of the Marlin must have been gigantic!

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Pachuca213! Watching that video I couldn't even begin to imagine what it must have been like to be there.

Pachuca213 6 years ago

I know...can you imagine what it would have looked like to see the shark eat that marlin in the water, from below? I cannot even fathom how big that sucker had to be in order to eat it!!!

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Pachuca213! A shark that big, even viewed from a cage in attack mode and I'm afraid I'd have had a heart attack. It was a lot of fun but made me very anxious even though they assured us we were safe.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Very interesting hub. I admire your adventure in getting a story even though you didn't relish going down. The result is apparently worth it.

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks dahoglund! I'm just a big chicken and probably wouldn't have had near the adventures were it not for my husband who lives to push that envelope of risk.

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Jerrilee - Another winner. I hope that you will let us all know when and where your book (or books) come(s) out. It is going to be a super winner. Gus

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks GusTheRedneck! No book plans but I do enjoy writing.

Carmen Borthwick profile image

Carmen Borthwick 6 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

Great hub Jerilee. My son has always been fascinated with sharks so I enjoyed reading. If you aren't a fan of stephhicks68 yet you might want to read the hub she just posted on shark finning, terrible things happening at sea.

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Carmen Borthwick! I'm a fan of stephhicks68 and that was a very important hub!

Carmen Borthwick profile image

Carmen Borthwick 6 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

Just call me Carmen, I just posted some info I found when I googled who eats shark fin soup... the answer didn't surprise me much.

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Carmen! I've been to many Asian countries and it was a big favorite in Thailand.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

Jerilee, so you've swum with the sharks, on land and on sea! That sounds like a line from a poem. Can I borrow it?

And you've dated sharks, too, huh? Who wrote you love letters and poems about sharks! Wow. I'm jealous.

BTW, the drawings are by you, right? I love them!

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Aya! You can certainly borrow anything that inspires you with my stuff.

Don't be jealous of love poems. Lesson learned there (and he was prolific in his poetry, love letters, and great for literary discussions)but is serving a life sentence (no joke). I think you would have made smarter choices than I did when I was young and liked the bad boys.

Yes, some of my old drawings/water colors. I'm dragging them out to use where I can. They were made on late 1800s paper, using laundry bluing (gives you a white white) water colors, homemade ink mixtures, etc. Seemed like a good idea at the time (I was in a wheel chair recovering and on pain pills is my only excuse). Only now about 13 years later, they are crumbling so it's scan them and toss them as they can't be restored. Literally falling to pieces.

Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

A great and detailed (as always) look at the great hunters of the sea. I don't blame them for attacking humans. After all, to them we're food. Either that or they're pissed at us. Wouldn't blame them for that either. Superlative!

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Christoph Reilly! I don't blame them either, they are just doing what comes naturally, just like the alligators and crocks.

poetlorraine 6 years ago

i so enjoyed reading your hub..... never knew there were so many different types of sharks, wow, you are brave

Bail Up ! profile image

Bail Up ! 6 years ago

Really great hub. I think you have to have something loose to try swimming with sharks :) but hey, to each their own. Thanks for sharing this story.

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks poetlorraine! I only touched on a few varieties of sharks.

Thanks Bail Up! I certainly agree.

majehe09 profile image

majehe09 6 years ago

All those teeth! Mercy! I'll bet that's an experience you'll never forget. Awesome!

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks majehe09! True.

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