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Leon threw out the second jug, raced the boat several hundred feet ahead and threw out the next jug and the next, until they were all sitting on the flat surface in a neat row. Around each jug were 10 pounds of chum filtering through the water, dispersing and, one hoped, enticing large hungry sharks. Sharks' power of smell is amazing. When there is blood in the water they will come from a long distance. But how do they do it? How does a little bit of blood that mixes with millions of gallons of water manage to stimulate the olfactory nerve of a shark and send it zeroing in for the kill?
My thoughts were interrupted when the first jug we put out began to bounce, and Edward cried, "We've got one! We've got one!" Leon jerked the starter cord. The outboard did nothing. He cursed and jerked it again, and this time it fired up. He hurriedly slapped it into gear and we were tearing off toward the jug. While it was jerking and thrashing about in a wide circle, it was obvious that the shark that had struck it wasn't big enough to get up and run with the jug. The shark could barely pull it under, but that didn't stop the fish from moving it around so fast it was difficult to grab.
Each time we reached out to snatch the jug it went under and moved off, and then it went way down. We looked at the jug a bit puzzled; it didn't make any sense. Then 50 feet away from the boat the jug surfaced again, but it was hardly moving. All the fight had gone out of the shark, yet judging from the way the jug sat in the water, the shark was still on it.
There was a shark on it all right, or at least a piece of one. A small blacktip, about four feet long, had taken the bait and had been chopped in half by a much bigger shark. Somewhere down there was the shark we were looking for, one capable of taking another that must have weighed 40 pounds and severing it with a single bite.
"If we can get the one that bit this one," observed Leon, "I think you'll have all the blood you need."
Edward jerked the hook out of the dead shark's mouth, hooked on a fresh mullet and tossed it overboard. Now we were watching the jugs intently, our eyes roving from one to another. But nothing moved. Somewhere beneath our boat lurked a big shark, maybe a huge hammerhead or a tiger. Still the jugs didn't move. Perhaps our big friend down there was only interested in frantic struggling game. Perhaps dead fish didn't appeal to its taste. We threw the badly bitten shark overboard, and as I watched it sink to the bottom I hoped that I might see a large gray shape appear and gobble it down. But the dead shark sank untouched out of sight.
Although I had a face mask in the bow, I wasn't about to put it on and stick my head into the water. The smell of shark, the feel of shark, made me tingle. Perhaps it aroused some atavistic fear in me, dating back to a time when ancient people lived at the seashore and made their living spearing fish, catching lobsters and digging clams. Food would have been plentiful at the edge of the sea, but their greatest terror would have been the sight of a dorsal fin cleaving the water. I thought of those powerful toothy jaws down below clamping down on the rest of the dead shark, and I knew that I didn't want to fall overboard.
The chances of being attacked by a shark are about as great as being struck by lightning. Yet in reading the popular literature, one gets the impression that sharks have nothing better to do than rove the sea looking for humans to eat. Every day people are mutilated on the highways in machines of their own making, ripped apart in airplane crashes, burned in fires and slaughtered by each other, and it is all more or less taken for granted. But should one large predatory white shark or mako choose to partake of a human, it becomes headlines all over the world. The thought of being eaten, with large sharp white teeth tearing away your flesh and crunching your bones, is so horrifying that even the most experienced divers shake at the thought of it. The cry Shark! will send people stampeding out of the water in terror. Yet only a handful of such attacks occur each year.
Actually, even the great white shark, often called "maneater," spends most of its time eating fish and squid, with an occasional sampling of turtle or sea lion. Sharks are very much a part of the environment; they are not horrid monsters from outer space sent to destroy the world. Although their ecology is a long way from being understood, sharks provide a much-needed service in the sea. To some degree they are cannibalistic, particularly when one of their kind is wounded or caught in a net. Little sharks are often found in the guts of bigger sharks.
If a large hammerhead is cut open, it will often be full of stingrays and its mouth perforated with the rays' venomous stingers. In all my years of working in the north Florida waters and traveling around the world I have never met anyone who had been attacked by a shark. I have, however, carried a number of screaming, miserable people to the hospital with stingray wounds in their hands or feet. Every year along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts stingrays inflict numerous injuries, and there is no estimating the number of marine catfish wounds, which are so painful one practically faints when perforated by their spines. People walk along the shallows and step on stingrays buried in the sand, and they are wounded by catfish when they take them off" their hooks.