Oceans and Seas

the work of author Michael Krieger

The Tiger Sharks: Part 3

Posted on Oct 10, 2016

The Tiger Sharks: Part 3

Marcus seems barely able to rationalize shark hunting. Were it not for the danger the sharks present to himself, his men, and his livestock, he thinks he could not kill them. “They are magnificent animals,” he says. “They are so at home in the wild that it makes you feel like you’re way out of place. I was raised hunting and fishing all my life,” he continues, “and I’ve shot and killed a lotta ducks and geese and deer and elk and everything else. I’m gettin’ to the point in my life where I feel that everything has a cycle of life, every animal has a meaning, you know. Just going out and killing for no reason I think is sinful as hell. Yeah, I’m gettin’ more and more leaning in that direction; so if they weren’t a danger to us, I wouldn’t be catchin’ ’em.”

This shark is now towing the empty oil drum in spurts, dragging the drum just under the surface and throwing up a huge plume of water as it tries to dive. Then tiring, the big gray fish comes back up. Frederick slowly pulls in line, hand over hand, each time the fish surfaces, only to lose it again on the next dive. He is very wary of the shark and steps back toward the center of the boat whenever the fish’s elliptical course brings it near. “You’re not scared of him, are you, Frederick?” Marcus asks, laughing. Frederick doesn’t answer but only gives Marcus a rueful look.

“The previous fall Frederick was out in the boat with me,” Marcus says. “It was about Frederick’s second time out. The first time he was out with me it went really easy. Anyway, this [second] time we are watchin’ the line and it doesn’t look like anything is suspicious. All of a sudden—the shark must’ve been just sittin’ there restin’—and all of a sudden, boom, everything goes under the water, and Frederick, he jumps about halfway through the ceiling and he says, `We got one, we got one!’ you know, and so I said, `Awright, awright.’ And everybody’s in the bush [everybody else is back at the ranch], just me and him are out there. And he says, `We must go back and get ’em two or three more boys,’ and I said, `Nope, me and you are gonna get this shark.’ And so we get out there and [the shark’s] pretty rambunctious and looks like a real active big shark. But what it was was a nine- or ten-footer hooked behind the dorsal fin. He had hooked first in the mouth—I keep my hooks real real sharp–and got off the line evidently. Then when he swung around, he slapped his body against the hook and it rehooked him behind the dorsal fin. You can’t turn a fish hardly when he’s hooked in the tail. I’ve accidentally snagged a lot of fish in the river and you can’t do it. This one it took us about an hour and fifteen minutes just to get him tired out enough to where we could get him up to shoot him. We got him up, and I told Frederick to grab ahold of his tail because I had ahold of his dorsal fin and his tail was comin’ out of the water. So Frederick reaches over, grabs ahold of his tail, and the shark gives a big whack! It knocks Frederick pretty nearly out the other side of the boat, and there is a big tail print right across, from his belly button all the way across his back. It’s a perfect shark tail imprinted on his skin, or rather where his skin had been. The shark’s skin is like sandpaper and Frederick all of a sudden is wearin’ a pink shark’s tail.

“And when that happened, Frederick’s eyes got about [Marcus spreads his hands] that big around. He didn’t say anything, `Let’s get outta here’ or anything, but you could see he was ready to walk on water. And when we finally got the shark, then it tickled hell outta him.”

But this shark, Marcus has to keep his mind on this shark, the one that is beside him now. He cannot afford the luxury of daydreaming. One stupid move, it could be their lives. The tiger seems to be tiring. Marcus bends over the side near the bow to look closer. Frederick and Thomas do likewise. Their sudden appearance instantly throws the shark into a frenzy. Before they can do anything, make the slightest move, the shark is around the other side of the bow and dives. The steel line attaching it to the empty oil drum sizzles as if it were on fire. The bow of the boat is now under the line—between the shark and the oil drum—and as the shark dives, the bow of the aluminum skiff is pulled down with it. Marcus, Frederick, and Thomas are in the air. They land in a pile in the bow, driving the boat down further. Water begins flooding in as though someone had opened a fire hydrant. Thomas and Frederick scramble toward the stern to equalize the weight in the boat and also to get as far away as possible from the shark. Marcus tries to pry the line off the bow, but with the thousand-pound shark still diving it is like a steel band attached to the boat. He can’t budge it. Water keeps pouring in, and now the boat begins to settle in the sea. Frederick and Thomas are hollering, screaming in pidgin, something about shooting the shark, which is crazy because it is twenty feet underwater. Marcus cannot think. “Shut up!” he screams at them, “We gotta pry this line loose!” Even with Thomas and Frederick holding onto the stern, the boat is still forty-five degrees to the sea and continues to fill. Another minute and they will be in the water with the tiger. The thought of again being in the water with a furious tiger shark drives Marcus to desperation. With all his strength and weight he pushes against the line to free it. But the only result is the shredding of his fingers on the line’s broken steel filaments. Marcus’s blood mixes with the water in the bow, swirling in intricate little eddies around his legs. He can only think about the need to free the line. Again he pushes against it with all his might, but the float attached to the anchor on the bottom is at the end of its tether. The adrenaline pumping through his brain makes Marcus dizzy. He feels as if he’s been hit by some superdrug. Everything is totally clear and he seems to have extraordinary strength—but it is not enough to do more than further tear his fingers. What can he do? He feels so helpless and there is no time left to do anything. The boat is sinking.

Suddenly the shark changes course and the boat bounces out from under the line. Marcus and the others are flung down with a thump. Unable to move, the three men just sit and look at each other. Then they see that the shark line is slack. The shark must have gotten off, probably straightened out the hook. Marcus reaches over and gives a gentle tug. Amazingly, there is still resistance, but not the same fighting resistance as before. Hand over hand he pulls in the exhausted shark until its head is next to the middle of the boat. In his right hand Marcus holds the loaded 12-gauge. For a long few seconds he is drawn to look into that great eye that is consciously focused on him, thinking what? Sadly, Marcus realizes the shark just wants to get away—to live. With the movement of a single finger he can put a couple of loads of double-ought buckshot right behind the eyes, blowing two plate-sized holes in the shark’s central nervous system, ending its life in an instant. Time stands still as Marcus ponders the great cosmos that looks uncomplainingly back at him. Finally two roars echo off the surrounding hills.

 

NOTE- When I interviewed Marcus Thompson in 1984 neither tiger sharks nor great whites were considered to be in jeopardy.  Now we know that both species are threatened.

 

* Bislama, or Pidgen English, is the national language of Vanuatu.