Now that the summer swimming season is over, it’s time to recap this summer’s shark report here in the North Atlantic. There were early reports of giant killer white sharks off Cape Cod this summer, and on several occasions the beaches at Chatham had to be evacuated. These sharks were seen by all sorts of people as close as 30 yards and as far off as 100 yards from shore. They were the size of the fish in the movie Jaws. All beaches up and down the northeast coast were put on alert at that time—this was in July—as this was the first time in awhile that people could recall seeing sharks the size of Volkswagens in the area.
Here in Montauk and the Hamptons, there were subsequently five reported near-shore sightings of sharks at our local beaches, but all these sharks were much smaller, perhaps threshers or makos, which can weigh-in at about 400 pounds. In one instance, according to a report in the East Hampton Star, a Montauk lifeguard named Christian Westergard was sitting on a surfboard alongside the roped-off area for swimmers at Gurney’s Inn on August 14 when he felt a force hit his legs and, moments later, also hit his surfboard, which dumped him overboard into the water. Atop the lifeguard stand, chief lifeguard Kate Albrecht, along with lifeguard Michael Morris, saw the commotion and saw the shark shadow near Westergard, but was astonished at what Westergard did when he came up from underwater. He quickly got back on his board, his legs dangling over, and paddled swiftly to shore, then strapped on a floatation torpedo, shouted to other lifeguards, and led a group of them back into the water to get the 30 or so bathers back out. From the stand, Kate Albrecht radioed the nearby Hither Hills State Park and East Hampton Town lifeguards, urging them to get their bathers out of the water, which they also did.
There were several other instances of shark sightings reported during the summer in the Hamptons. In one instance, a fisherman off Ditch Plains telephoned his son surfing along the shoreline that he had a shark circling his boat and to pass that on, which the son did.
On another occasion, a surfcaster named John Morley, fishing in Napeague along the ocean beach there, much to his surprise, hooked and hauled in a shark between four-and-a-half and five feet long. A photo of that shark was sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service in Narragansett, Rhode Island for identification.
In case you think these were just isolated sightings of sharks, consider this. There were three shark fishing competitions held in Montauk this summer. The 26th annual Star Island Yacht Club Shark fishing contest, resulted in 47 total sharks, including 32 makos brought in—all over the minimum of 150 pounds—over the weekend of June 15–16. One boat brought in a 422-pound thresher shark. Other competitions took place earlier in the spring and also in August. The 42nd annual Montauk Marine Basin Shark Fishing Contest was held in late June. Tens of thousands of dollars were contributed for prizes. Hundreds of boats entered these contests. Crowds of people were on hand to watch the fishermen come in with their catches, the largest of which they brought in; the ones that didn’t meet weight requirements were thrown back.
The folks up in Cape Cod were faced with a much different situation in July. These sharks were about four times the size of the ones caught here. The city of Chatham hired a shark spotter to go out every day in an airplane and look for the killer or killers. The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries also authorized a boat, a converted crabbing vessel captained by Chris Fischer, to go out to find the sharks.
It took them awhile, but they found one on September 13. How they caught her and got her into a canvas cradle attached with an outrigger to the side of the boat is not reported on the dailycomet.com, where we read this report, but this killer white weighed 2,292 pounds and a team of scientists, over a period of 15 minutes, held her in the cradle and attached a GPS tag to her dorsal fin and took tissue and blood samples for analysis. She was then named “Genie” for purposes of tracking her location on a computer screen and then let go.
On September 17, they caught a nastier and much bigger killer white shark. She was a real fighter and pulled them around for a while until she exhausted herself enough to be pulled into the cradle, where she started up again and swatted three scientists with her thrashing tail before settling back down. She weighed 3,456 pounds and measured 16 feet in length. The scientists tagged her and took blood and tissue samples and also released this killer, now named “Mary Lee,” back into the wild.
Some people do recall how Montauk shark fisherman Frank Mundus used to go out shark fishing with rod and reel aiming to catch one of these monsters. He also carried a high-powered rifle to finish things off if things went badly, which they sometimes did. In 1986, Mundus landed the largest killer shark ever by rod and reel. This was a 3,427 pound monster, which was pulled to the side of the boat and then lashed there after being shot in the head to make sure he was dead, but Mundus’ application for the world’s shark fishing record for rod and reel with the appropriate judging board was disqualified because Mundus himself had hooked the fish while in the fighting chair and then minutes later got up from the chair and turned the rod over to his charter client for the day who did the rest of the work. Two men on a fish disqualified him.
I’d like to end this report with the story of a man’s thumb found inside a fish and identified by matching the fingerprint with the man who lost it three months earlier.
The finger belonged to a wakeboarder named Haans Galassi, 31, who was wakeboarding behind a powerboat on Priest Lake, Idaho on June 21. He caught his finger in the loop of the towline and was unable to remove it before the line cut it off, and it fell down into the water.
On September 11, Nolan Calvin was trout fishing on the same lake, eight miles away from where Galassi was injured. He caught a trout and was cleaning it when he discovered the finger inside the fish’s belly. He put it on ice and turned it over to the Bonner County Sheriff’s office, which found that the fingerprint on the finger was still intact, and by checking their records discovered it matched those of Galassi. Galassi learned about this last Tuesday. Of course it was too late to reattach it.
The 21st century is now strutting its stuff with the pre-historic denizens of the sea, big and small. Two little red dots on a computer screen making pinging noises are tracking Mary Lee and Genie. In recent weeks, Genie headed south from Chatham, then turned around and as this is written is lurking off the south coast of Nantucket. Mary Lee headed out from Chatham going north, got to just off Wellfleet, then headed south and is currently well out in the Atlantic about parallel with Washington D.C.
Meanwhile a little human finger indicates that a trout without a name is now eight miles away from where it was on June 21.
Science marches on. And I predict by next summer that you—after reading this—will be less scared of going in the water then you are now. See you at the beach.