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Jun 08

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Sea of Cortez

In April 2012, a great white shark of exceptional size was caught by fishermen two miles off the coast of the port city of Guaymas, Mexico.  The shark was snared in a large net and was already dead when pulled to the surface.  Dead or not, it must have been an unnerving and humbling experience to catch a fish as large as the boat you are sitting in.  The fisherman claimed a length of 20 feet and a weight around 1 ton, although these measurements were not officially verified.  Great white sharks are normally associated with colder waters than the Sea of Cortez offers, but some scientists think that the Sea may function as a protective nursery for juvenile great whites.  In recent years, scientists have slowly began to gain a better understanding of the mirgration routes of both adult and juvenile great white sharks.  A length of 20 to 21 feet is generally regarded as the maximum size of the species, although doubtful claims of 25 to 30 feet have been reported through the years.

This account brings to mind another great shark story, 67 years earlier and hundreds of miles to the east of Guaymas, near the quaint fishing village of Cojimar, Cuba.  Author Ernest Hemingway enjoyed fishing in the area, and the town served as inspiration for his 1952 classic “The Old Man and the Sea”.  On that fateful day in June 1945, however, six men went out to sea and did battle with a monster that was far from dead.  Here is the account, in their own words:

‘That day, although it was a typical day in June, there was an eerie feeling among the fishermen. Before sunrise, the fishermen already had sailed about three miles, just to the edge of the Gulf Stream, where the current is strong enough for large pelagic fish to abound. One of the fishermen put bait in the water, as he did every morning. Ballyhoo is the blue marlin’s favorite bait. That particular day the fishermen wished for a large blue marlin, it was considered one of the best paid fish.  After a couple of hours, not a single fish had shown interest in the fresh ballyhoos that were lying motionless in the water. Other boats that were not too far away seemed to have the same luck. Old salts talk about luck all the time. Usually, one can see the splash of a fish that is being caught by another boat. Sometimes you can even hear fishermen in other boats when a fish is caught. But that day, all was calm. At exactly 9 a.m. a large shark fin appeared only a few feet way from the skiff. Although the fishermen were experienced shark fishermen, they were surprised and left speechless by the size of the fin cutting through the water. One of the fishermen exclaimed out loud “No wonder there are no fish around!” They knew it was a great white shark.  In great excitement, the fishermen tossed bait and chum in the water to keep the shark near. This shark was bigger than all other sharks that they had ever seen or caught. Immediately, they tied several lines together. For bait they used half of a tuna that was bitten by a smaller shark while fishing the day before.  The smell of bait and chum in the water brought the shark closer to the skiff, it passed parallel to the boat and the men saw that it was much bigger than their boat. They looked at each other with uncertainty and disbelief. It t was perhaps a moment of fear, however catching this shark would make the pay for many days at sea. There was no time to waste. They hooked the half tuna in a shark hook that was followed by a wire leader and by thousands of feet of old silk rope. One of the men gently tossed the bait in the deep blue water. The shark passed the boat again and swallowed the bait whole.   The shark began taking line almost immediately but the men knew that no human hands could stop such a fish. They had palangres with them, these are small wood rafts used to lay many lines in the water from one raft to the other. The palangres were used for swordfish fishing at night. The fishermen knew that the palangres would increase the resistance to the hooked shark.
After many hours of following the palangres that were being pulled by the shark, the line began to surface. They knew then that the fish was tired of pulling the extra weight. One of the fishermen recovered line while others prepared a harpoon. They knew that the most dangerous moment lay ahead, as the shark got closer to the boat.  After more than one hour of recovering line, they saw the shark 60 to 80 feet under the skiff — even then, it looked big. The moment of truth was approaching. The fishermen could feel their own hearts beating rapidly. They were hoping that the shark was really tired or near death, but they did not imagine that their worst nightmare was approaching the boat.  When the shark was only 20 feet from the boat, it torpedoed directly to the keel and struck the boat sideways.Then it turned back and began biting the keel of the boat. One of the fishermen saw pieces of wood floating next to the boat. He described it as thousands of toothpicks floating next to the skiff. They knew that there was plenty of life left in the fish, so in a hurry they prepared the harpoon — a hand-held wooden pole with a sharp bronze tip — and without hesitation they harpooned the shark in its next attack to the boat.  The harpooned shark calmed down but not enough. The fish continued biting the keel of the boat and at one time it took pieces of the rudder. This fish put up a great fight before being caught, perhaps one of many fights in his long life. These fishermen respected the ocean and the creatures in it. They spoke highly about this particular shark and the fight it put on. Perhaps they were sorry that they had to kill such a great fish — but they were fishermen by circumstances and not by choice.’

The 1945 “Cojimar Monster” is regarded by many as the largest great white ever caught – approximately 21 feet long and 7000 pounds (although, like the Guaymas great white shark, the measurements were not officially verified).  As a general rule of thumb, never catch a fish larger than your boat – in this case, a fish seven feet longer than your boat.  No guns, just harpoons and fishing line several miles offshore.  And I get worked up about a spider in my house.  The picture below was taken by a vactioning newspaper reporter in Cojimar.  Another fascinating glimpse into God’s creation.

Comparison of 6 foot tall man to 20 foot long great white shark.

(Note:  A Survey of the World is simply a report into what is occurring worldwide in terms of natural, cultural, and religious events.  The author does not necessarily endorse any activities, beliefs, or opinions mentioned in each article.  The reader can choose to take each article as a source of either information, entertainment, study, or prayer.)

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