Shark Week in the Potomac River: Two 8-Foot-Plus Bull Sharks Have Been Caught in Two Days (Photo)

Filed in Gather News Channel by on September 3, 2010 0 Comments

Shark Week has surfaced in our nation’s capital, and no politicians or lobbyists are even involved. Imagine that.

Just when you thought it was safe to go into the waters of the Potomac River, two 8-foot-plus bull sharks have been netted this week alone.

The Washington Post is reporting that Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, two of the tenacious bulls were caught by fishers in two different spots on the river.

Just the Fish Facts, Please (Yes, Sharks Are Fish)

On Tuesday, an eight-foot-one bull was netted by fisherman Willy Dean and his helpers, who commanded a 22-foot skiff. This bull shark, which tipped the, erm, scales at 300 pounds and then some, was found at Cornfield Harbor, which is near Point Lookout State Park, Md., far out of its traditional hunting haven (Washington Post).

Then, an unconfirmed eight-foot-three-inch bull was lassoed Wednesday by Thomas Crowder and his crew. Crowder said they were near Tall Timbers on Wednesday when they netted the bull shark. “He couldn’t swim and breathe, and he drowned,” Crowder said. “We kept saying for years that we wanted to catch a shark. . . .” (Washington Post).

What is Drawing ‘Jaws’ to the Potomac: Food? Climate Change? Looking for Amity?

The late, great actors Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider are nowhere about, nor are any fearsome, mammoth Great Whites, so what could be drawing ‘Jaws’ to the shores of the Potomac? A poor sense of direction? . . . Perhaps they were looking for Amity Island. If so, they chose the wrong waters for friendship.

After you’ve pah-ked ya cah in tha yahd, it might be good to consider just a few explanations with some teeth in them.

They’re there because they can be: Bull sharks are unique in that they can tolerate the freshwater of the Potomac River, according to the Marine Bio Conservation Society. But they’re almost never spotted in the Potomac or in the vicinity according to Ken Kaumeyer, curator of estuarine biology at the Calvert Marine Museum, who said he thinks the last bull shark sighting in those parts was some 37 years ago (Washington Post).

Kaumeyer and another biologist were with Dean on a typical ray-collecting mission and wound up pulling in a Carcharhinus leucas instead. This bull shark was captured where the Potomac River empties into the Chesapeake Bay.

“I’ve been working on the bay for almost 40 years, and you get these odd things — like when the [humpback] whale came by this summer. . . . You never know what you’re going to find,” he said.

Food: He noted that sharks are in the bay, most likely to take part in a moveable feast on delectable crabs and coveted cownose rays. However, even though they have the ability to migrate into freshwater, they do so only “very, very rarely.”

Dean, said to be a commercial pound-net fisherman, wrestled with the bull-beast for more than two hours, finally heaving its bulk onto his boat on Tuesday. Sadly, the shark is reported to have died soon after being pulled from the water.

Until further updates, I have to presume that the intentions were good–that the biologists aboard wanted to examine the shark, because it was such an oddity and to derive some important data about its habits and overall condition (age, sex, weight, any observed anomalies or illness, and so forth), and that its unfortunate death was completely unintentional.

Therefore, the fact that Dean has given the dead shark a pet name of Jody, which he won’t explain, and plans to eat her–presumably it’s a female–in steak form, now seems a little more pragmatic than weird.

As any Shark Week watcher knows, we still know precious little about the oceans, a bit more about the weather and climate phenomena affecting them, and, yet again, not bloody much about one of the oceans’ more ancient and mysterious inhabitants: sharks of every species and stripe, from tigers to bulls to hammerheads and Great Whites.

Climate change: Although I am certainly no climatologist and El Niños don’t necessarily apply in this context, perhaps there is some merit to the thinking that strange weather and animal phenomena have some correlation to, if not causation by, planetary climate change. Reference an Aug. 27, 2010, Science Daily news report indicating that NASA/NOAA data are pointing toward a novel type of El Niño, “which has its warmest waters in the central-equatorial Pacific Ocean, rather than in the eastern-equatorial Pacific.” The report notes that these El Niños are becoming both more common and progressively stronger, which does not bode well for either fish or us. Nonetheless, this is just an anecdote-driven theory on my part and, alas, I am no scientist.

Deep-Sea or Other Fishers: Have Your Say about this Potomac Peculiarity

This writer is fascinated by seafaring tales, including (but not limited to) Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Although I’ve been on the oceans, lakes, rivers, and creeks of this good Earth only several handfuls of times, I have yet to see anything as strange as this out-of-range bull shark, much less a humpback whale in the Potomac.

Of course, fishing tales of “‘the one that got away” abound. What say you, readers? Have you experienced any strange or interesting adventures, seen any out-of-the-ordinary animals, been caught amid any unexpected weather events, or even reeled in a whopper of a catfish or tuna or squid or …

What do you think might be causing bull sharks to turn up in the Potomac for possibly the first time in more than 35 years? Are they running out of prey in the Chesapeake Bay and open ocean?

Kindly leave your tales small and tall in the comments section. Even though I’m not your wife, girlfriend, or fishing buddy, I’ll read them. Please just don’t call me Ishmael.

ARTICLE © Leigh Ramsey/1 Woman Wordsmith, September 2010, for All rights reserved. No reprints without express prior written permission.

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