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Fishes of the Deep Deep Sea
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
Do You Know?
Only one in one thousand animals born in the sea survives to maturity.
If You'd Like To Know More
- Costa Rica Shark Dives
- Hammerhead Shark
Hammerhead Shark background and useful information.
- Hammerhead Shark Facts
- Sawfish Conservation
- Sawfish - Marine Species Conservation
The sawfish form the Pristidae family, which is comprised of between five and eight species. They are a group of highly modified rays that are thought to have evolved from ancient sharks. In Australia, up to five species of sawfish are found and one