Leon slowed the
tunnel boat, we glided to a stop and he began to chum. Beneath our boat was a
magnificent sea-whip bottom, a limestone outcrop of flat rock so heavily
overgrown with sponges and gorgonians that it looked like a dense forest of
yellow, purple, red and orange plastic-coated wire. The water was scarcely 15
feet deep, and we often went diving there to fill our orders. We had from time
to time also pulled some huge sharks from these waters, including tigers,
hammerheads and bulls.
But never while
diving had we been bothered by even one shark. In fact, in all our combined
years of diving, shark sightings had been extremely rare. I recall having
encountered a young hammerhead once while diving around some pilings. I was
absorbed in collecting sea pork and when I looked up I saw the hammerhead
approaching. When it came within range, it spooked, and turned and fled. The
one experience my wife Anne had was a little scarier. She was diving with a
companion around an oil rig off the Louisiana coast, making a survey of fouling
organisms, when a small sand shark, about four feet long, appeared, circled and
refused to go away. It appeared territorial in its manner and seemed to regard
the large funny-looking divers with their clouds of bubbles as trespassers.
When it showed a little too much interest, Anne and her buddy gave a thumbs-up
signal and surfaced.
But we knew one
sports diver who frequently dived along the north Florida rocky outcrops and he
always saw sharks, sometimes enormous ones, and he had had some close calls. He
was a spear fisherman. He went down to the bottom not to observe and appreciate
but to kill. He would swim up to a large friendly grouper, which peered out at
him curiously from its cave, and would send his spear smashing into its side.
The frantic death struggle of the fish and the cloud of blood permeating the
water invariably brought sharks to the area. Once this mighty he-man had to
kill a 10-foot bull shark that came a little too close.
Perhaps it may
appear a bit hypocritical for me to write about my adventures in catching and
killing sharks and then berate someone else for doing the same, but there is a
difference. When a man straps on scuba gear and jumps overboard, he leaves his
own world and ventures into another. He should behave as a guest of that world,
take only what he needs and destroy as little as possible. When I see so-called
sportsmen reeling in a struggling shark, shooting it and then cutting it loose
and letting it sink limply to the bottom, I feel that a crime against nature is
being committed. If the shark were used somehow—for food or for science—then
taking its life wouldn't be as bad or wasteful.
primitive people around the world who are one with their environments venerate
the creatures they catch and eat, whether they be sea turtles, whales or
sharks. Often the catching and slaughtering of a large animal is accompanied by
ritual songs and dances of appreciation to the various sea gods and nature
spirits that have provided them with food and medicine.
In much the same
sense, as I sat upon the stern of the tunnel boat, ramming large steel-barbed
hooks through chunks of bloody fish, I was asking the sea to give up one of its
sharks. In return I would do everything in my power to keep my fellow human
beings from destroying and polluting the sea.
"We ought to
catch a hell of a shark here with all this chum," Leon said as his knife
sliced through the red meat of a crevalle jack. "I used to have a line of
crab traps here, and we'd see some monsters following the boat. I saw a
hammerhead here once that must have been 15 feet long. If we caught one like
that we'd have enough blood to fill a washtub. All right, Edward, start
throwing out the chum."
That morning we
had made the rounds of all the fish houses and gotten two barrels of their
discards to use for chum. There was a great array of mullet heads, backbones,
guts and scales, and half a garbage can of semirotten shrimp heads. But for
bait we bought some jacks and fresh mullet, nice sleek fish with firm tissues,
packed on ice. The mullet were good enough to eat, in fact, so I made sure they
were well iced just in case we didn't catch any sharks, or caught sharks before
we used them up. It had been a long while since I'd had some nice fresh mullet
Long ago I had
learned that it didn't pay to be stingy and get bad bait when shark fishing.
Although we could usually chum up a few sharks that would go out of their minds
in a gobbling fit, most of them are discriminating. If we economized and put
old fish on the hook, the bait would sit there until the crabs ate it. We would
see sharks circling all around it, but they seldom would move in to feed. Only
a fresh, firm healthy fish, the kind you would eat yourself, could really
guarantee a shark. The only thing better would be to put on a live fish and let
it thrash around; its distress movements and vibrations would bring in sharks
before you knew it.
Leon set the
hooks through the mullets' bodies, tossed the jugs overboard and then threw out
the heavy concrete blocks that were attached to them. Edward dumped a small
bucket of mullet pieces and shrimp heads into the sea, and the juices clouded
the water. "If anything's going to draw those sharks, this will," said
Leon excitedly. "The tide is about right, too. It's still on the rise and
that's when sharks should be feeding."