Thursday, July 28, 2016

Shark Mania NJ!

Hello everyone and welcome as always. Today's blog is going to be a quick one as I quickly take a look at some events that have been going on over the past few days as there has been quite a few shark related things going on.

First off, a video has surfaced of a 13 year old catching a sand tiger shark from the beach in Long Beach Island. The shark was estimated to be around 7 feet in length and the kid and his father were trying to catch stingrays when the shark grabbed a hold of the bait. I've gotta say that a 13 year old getting a big sand tiger onto the beach is no easy feat so that impressed me personally. Once on the beach the dad and kid took a couple quick photos of the shark then quickly released it back into the water. Sand tiger sharks are a protected species so releasing it was absolutely the correct thing to do. In addition, the father/son duo didn't go all crazy with their catch. There was no passing the shark around and from the looks of it, I'd say the shark never left the ground throughout the brief time it was out of the water.So there's a sand tiger shark literally being caught in the surf. The video of the catch was all over the news yesterday so a quick google search should find it for you. For the privacy of the names of the kid and father and what not, I'm not going to post it here.

Next there's a bit of a mystery as to just what was swimming off the beach in Belmar a few days ago. Beachgoers were shocked to see two fins hanging around in the surf. The controversy lies in just what those fins belonged to. The town Mayor claims that the fins belonged to bullnose rays that were playing in the surf. Meanwhile Erich Ritter, a research associate from the University of West Florida claims the fins could have been from one of many species of shark. To me, the video shows a few young sharks going after something, probably some bunker that has been nearly endless in the area lately. Similar reports of seeing smaller fins circling and splashing was also reported in nearby Spring Lake just days before. Chances are these are young sharks investigating their surroundings, but they're so small I'm not going to guess the species, I'll leave that up to the experts.

Last week a couple fishermen were shocked off the coast of Atlantic City when a great white shark appeared at their boat while they were fishing for other shark species. The great white made a few passes by the boat, occasionally rolling onto it's side to check out the boat and fishermen. It apparently took a small investigative bite on the back of the boat and eventually left.

The point here is just as I said a couple blogs ago. Sharks are in the Ocean and they come to New Jersey every year. The small sharks off Belmar were chasing food around, if the kid on Long Beach Island was going for stingrays, then wouldn't you know it, a shark was around because sharks eat stingrays, and a great white appeared by a boat that was trying to catch other sharks, thus luring the great white to food. It's all about the food chain here and where they prey will go, the predators will follow. That's the way the seas have worked forever, so again, the sharks are not there because you are there, they are there because they have to be to eat and really try and keep the lesser fish populations in check. I'm hopeful more of these amazing animals are seen because they are really signifying a healthier ocean. I can personally attest to that as the last time I was on a boat from Point Pleasant to Belmar, there were literally millions and millions of bunker. Five years ago you'd be lucky if you saw any while cruising around. Where the food is the sharks will follow, but the key is. The bunker is the food, not the humans!

Stay tuned for more shark stuff coming soon!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jaws Breakdown

Hello everyone and welcome as always! If my last blog on the smooth dogfish wasn't clue enough, I have returned from all the wedding festivities that were going on and am ready to hit the ground running again. The wedding itself was an amazing event and the mini honeymoon we went on was very relaxing and fun as well. So from now until late October I'll be back at this pretty regularly. I mentioned a few blogs back that I would be taking some time to look at different shark movies and basically have some fun with them and provide some educational input as well. The reason I'm doing this is because many people actually do believe what they see in the movies. As you'll see as we progress through this blog and future blogs like this is you can't believe everything you see on the silver screen. Oh and before I begin I guess I should put out the obligatory SPOILER WARNING in case you have not seen the movie.

Jaws was released in 1975 and quickly became one of the most well known movies to ever exist. Directed by Steven Speilberg and based off a novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws is the story of a massive man eating great white shark that terrorized people and on Amity Island. Amity Island is a fictional island that was set somewhere in New England. The inspiration for both the book and movie however were the very real 1916 New Jersey shark attacks which I'll touch on as the blog continues on. The production of this movie was plagued with problems. It went over-budget and took longer to finish than anticipated. In fact, the shark that was used in the movie had a plethora of problems of it's own that caused the shark to appear less in the film than originally anticipated. Instead, Speilberg had John Williams compose the ominous music that plays when the shark is in the area, but not always seen.

The famous opening scene of Jaws shows the shark attacking a girl swimming in the Ocean while her friend passes out drunk on the beach at just the oh so wrong time. The parallel here to the events of 1916 is that Charles Vansant, the first victim in 1916, was killed while swimming alone with a companion (in his case a dog) unable to help from the shore. 

The movie progresses as police chief Martin Brody (Roy Schneider) enlists the aid of shark hunter Quint (Richard Dreyfuss) and oceanographer Matt Hooper (Murray Hamilton) to hunt down the shark that was terrorizing the beachgoers all while trying to keep the peace on the island and give hope to the town that everything is under control. Amity keeps it's beaches open for a time and sure enough more people are killed by the shark, including a child. This sends the town into a shark hunting frenzy. One pair of fishermen come in contact with Jaws who basically rips the dock out from under them. Both fishermen survive the attack. Quint offers his shark hunting services for a massive fee of ten thousand dollars, but Brody originally refuses the offer. One of the boats brings into port a large tiger shark which prompts the mayor of Amity, Larry Vaughn to declare the shark problem is over. On the fourth of July the shark attacked again, this time killing a man who was in close vicinity to Chief Brody's son and near the same beach that Vaughn's children were at as well. This causes Vaughn to hire Quint to go after the shark. Both Brody and Hooper accompany Quint on his journey. While trying to bait the shark to the boat, it pops up in a rather comical if you ask me scene. Right after one of the most famous lines in Hollywood is spoken by Brody.... "We're going to need a bigger boat". Quint manages to harpoon three barrels into the shark and Hooper manages to get a tracking device on it as well before it vanished into the depths.

After a night of drinking Quint tells the tale of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, an American ship that was sunk in World War II. After telling the story, the men sing some drunk sailor songs (Show Me the Way to Go Home) until Jaws decides to ram the boat a few times causing the engine compartment to leak. After a quick confrontation, the shark vanishes again with Quint's boat, the Orca largely disabled. After a limited success repair attempt on the Orca, the men manage to get the shark tied to the boat, only for it to drag the boat further out to sea and causing more damage to the boat in the process. Hooper enters a shark cage and decides to face the shark in the water. Jaws makes quick work of the cage, but Hooper manages to hide in a reef. Jaws then goes full whale on the boat and breaches onto it. Quint is grabbed and eaten by the shark that again breaches onto the boat. In an attempt to get the shark to back off, Brody shoves an air tank in it's mouth. With the tank still in it's mouth the shark again goes after Brody, but he manages to shoot the air tank with a gun causing it to explode thus blowing Jaws to pieces. Hooper surfaces and the two celebrate and paddle back to shore.

 For me some of the most memorable scenes from the movie include the following... Another parallel to the 1916 shark attacks is the shark entering into a pond and attacking people, including children. In 1916 Lester Stillwell, Stanley Fisher, and Joseph Dunn were attacked in the Matawan Creek, a freshwater creek located in central New Jersey. Both Stillwell and Fisher lost their lives, but Dunn would be rescued. In the movie, a sailing instructor is killed and eaten by the shark. Interesting to note that in 1916 all bodies from the attacks were recovered contrary to Jaws eating everybody. Even more interesting to me is that Jaws is a Great White whereas many scientists believe that the Bull Shark is responsible for the 1916 attacks. As a big fan of history I also fancy Quint's tale of the Indianapolis. One thing to note in that scene however is that it is believed that Oceanic White Tip Sharks were responsible for scavenging on those who were deceased or near deceased. In Quint's tale, Tiger sharks picked the men off one by one.

So where is the fun in this movie. Well it comes in knowing a little about sharks and knowing that Hollywood doesn't always equal reality. For one, some species of shark are known to breach. as you can see Jaws demonstrating in the picture above. However sharks are only known to do this while hooked and by sharks I'm generally talking about the Shortfin Mako shark which commonly breaches while hooked and sometimes lands in boats on accident. Great Whites will breach in certain part of the world, but they are not at all known to jump on the back of the boat and act like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. 

In addition, sharks are not known to literally go Pacman on a boat and just start eating it's way through the boat. Nor have they proven to be intelligent enough to ram an engine compartment until it floods with water. Perhaps the most outrageous thing in the movie is at one point the shark breaches and literally roars. I'm sorry I can't think of a single shark that roars. I mean sea robins croak and what not, but never have I heard a fish of any kind let out a literal lion-esque roar. Incredible! This literally scared the crap out of people in the 1970's.

At the time that fear was justified. We knew so so so sooooo little about sharks back then that it's no wonder that this movie plunged the world into a shark panic. Now though the impacts of this movie has stretched far and wide and caused the author of the book, Peter Benchley to say "Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today". He also said "Sharks don't target human beings, and they certainly don't hold grudges". Two huge phrases that really opened a lot of eyes to what had happened. No matter how many times Benchley said the book and film are fiction, people still feared sharks in a way they had never done before. After Jaws was released shark hunting skyrocketed. Great Whites became trophies. Some fisherman considered it doing their duty to go out and kill these animals. If you don't believe that simply go on Youtube, the videos are not difficult to find at all. Though Peter Benchley has sadly passed away, his wife Wendy continues to fight for sharks to this very day.

Partially thanks to the movie, Great White populations have plummeted around the world. Shark finning, long line fishing, trophy hunting, and fear have all contributed to this shark's populations to decrease around the world. In just over 30 years following the movie, this species of shark has ended up of the IUCN's Red List as Vulnerable. This shark is now a protected species and in some areas it seems that the populations are increasing which is amazing news. Every day more and more people are becoming aware of the truth about these animals through the efforts of individuals like Wendy Benchley and countless others who want these sharks to have a future.

Jaws is probably the most historically influenced shark movie there is. This is why this blog had a more serious tone. The upcoming shark movie blogs are a bit more outlandish as I looks towards movies such as Deep Blue Sea, Sharknado, and others. Stay tuned for some Hollywood/Sci-Fi fun coming soon!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

New Jersey's Fintastic Visitors Episode II: The Smooth Dogfish

Hello everyone and welcome back to New Jersey's Fintastic Visitors! This will be the second installment of a series of educational blogs that highlight some of the sharks that visit my home state of New Jersey throughout the year! Today's blog will focus on a small species of shark known as the smooth dogfish!

If you have ever taken a boat into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New Jersey and tried to fish for anything close to shore, there is a halfway decent chance that you may have caught one of these little guys. Despite their size, the smooth dogfish is just as much a shark as it's larger cousins. The smooth dogfish can grow to be roughly 5 feet in length, but the average is smaller than that. Weight wise this shark can get to be roughly 27 pounds. They make their home along the East Coast of the United States including the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. They can also be found along the Southern coast of Brazil and northern Argentina. Interestingly enough, the individual populations of smooth dogfish seem to keep to themselves despite migrating every year.

For the most part, these sharks are found in shallow waters, normally 60 feet or less. On occasion though they can be found in much deeper waters. On very rare occasions these sharks have been found in mostly fresh water areas, but it is thought that they cannot survive for long in those waters. The smooth dogfish is commonly confused with it's cousin, the spiny dogfish. One of the biggest differences between the two sharks, and easily the easiest way to tell the difference is that the smooth dogfish does not have the dorsal spines that the spiny dogfish has. The gestation period of this shark is roughly 11 months. The mother shark will give birth to between 4 and 20 pups. At birth, the pups are roughly 13 inches in length.

The primary diet of this shark consists of small fish as well as shellfish. The teeth of this shark is by no means adequate for tearing flesh as they are pretty flat and pavement like. This shape makes them perfect for crushing the shells of clams, crabs, etc. As a result of these teeth being the way they are, these sharks pose zero threat to man. The primary predators of these sharks are larger sharks. Hammerheads and Blacktip sharks will frequently choose dogfish as their meal.

While the dogfish is harmless towards people, people can and are having major impacts on this shark. Many fishermen consider this shark as bycatch and a problem fish. Many will simply kill this shark just because it wound up on the hook, stealing their bait. Countless other dogfish are scooped up by commercial fishing vessels and are crushed by the weight of the other fish in the nets or die from the trauma suffered while being caught. Shark finning is also affecting this shark's populations as the fins are used in shark fin soup in Asia. This shark's body is often shipped overseas cheaply as meat for Fish N' Chips as a replacement for other fish.  The current population trend of this shark is currently unknown and probably varies from location to location. The most commercial fishing pressure on these sharks can be found off the northeast coast of the United States. With all the pressures these sharks are facing they are currently listed as NEAR THREATENED on the IUCN's Red List.

If you are ever out on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean and you happen to catch one of these guys or gals, take a good look at them. Keep in mind this animal is just as much a shark as any other species of shark in the Ocean. They have a job to do and they do it well. Just because this shark may have stolen your bait is not an excuse to kill it. Respect the shark and know that life can be tough for this smaller species that is dealing with a lot of pressure both inside and outside of the seas.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Double Shark Sunday

Hello everyone and welcome once again. Today I will be covering two quick topics, both of which are shark related. First I'll be taking a quick look at this year's Shark Week that has come to an end. Then I will take a look at some historical events.

So I have a confession to start off this blog. I had nooooooo idea that Shark Week was actually starting on June 26th. I don't know if it's because I haven't been watching much in the way of television as of late or what, but I basically accidentally stumbled upon it. I just happened to see last year's Monster Mako was on so I tuned in and saw a countdown to the start of Shark Week. So my thoughts on this year's installment of Shark Week from what I've seen is as follows. Overall I thought this was the quietest Shark Week I've seen in years. My social media accounts weren't blowing up with it as in years past, I didn't hear people at work talking about it, and I didn't even hear much about it from local aquariums. The programming itself from what I saw, was not all that terrible. Of course you had the stupid shows focusing in on sharks hunting people and how dangerous and deadly they are. At the same time though there were actually some scientific shows that I personally found quite interesting. Sharks versus Dolphins I found to be a really good show aside from a comment about tiger sharks being man eaters. It showed quite a few different scenarios in which various species of sharks and dolphins deal with each other. It was a pretty good show and if you have any interest in sharks or dolphins, it's certainly worth checking out. The shark fin cams were pretty cool to see on different shows and really gives the audience a look at what a shark sees during the course of a day. So my overall reaction to Shark Week this year as it wraps up is better than it's been. I don't feel the need to rip different shows apart as I have in the past as many of these shows focused more on the sharks and different research as opposed to sharks doing nothing but finding ways to hunt down humans. Shark Week concludes tonight and I hope it does respectfully so. My only major gripe this year was the constant promoting of the movie "The Shallows". This movie from all previews appears to be another shark attack Jaws esque movie. At one point during a promo someone says they made the movie while respecting the shark. Seeing a massive shark breach and grab a human then stalk another for the rest of the movie is not a sign of respect. Instead it's something that just further pushes the stereotype people have for most sharks. Vicious man eaters that is...

In other, more local news to me... Two days ago was the official 100th anniversary of the start of what is commonly known as the twelve days of terror. For those of you who don't know, the twelve days of terror took place from July 1st through 12th which saw four people killed and once person badly injured by a shark. Nobody knows as to whether or not there was one or multiple sharks were responsible for the attacks. Nobody even knows for sure which species of shark was responsible. Most people believe either the great white or the bull shark was responsible for these attacks. These attacks would change the country's view on sharks forever. It is these shark attacks that the movie Jaws was modeled after. Yes it is ironic that the shark in Jaws is a great white when a great white may not have even been responsible. While the 100th anniversary is certainly something to remember and those who lost their lives should absolutely be remembered I bring this anniversary up for a different reason.

Of course the shark attacks of 1916 made the front page of several local papers over the past few days, but something else has been floating moreso around social media. That is scientists claiming this year could see a repeat of the 1916 attacks due to the amount of sharks seen close to shore in recent years. Well..... So far this year an unidentified species of shark was spotted following a pod of dolphins off of Deal New Jersey which caused the lifeguards to pull all swimmers out of the water for several hours. Today I just watched a clip of a news broadcast showing a great white that was seen roughly three miles off the coast. Of course those two reports coupled with "scientists" claiming that there is a good chance for a series of attacks this year and the 100th anniversary of the 1916 attacks has gotten a lot of people on edge. All I can say about it all is that the sighting of two sharks means nothing. Sharks are seen every year. Some are close to shore, some aren't. Last year it was a hammerhead in close to shore. Before that it was a blue shark. The list goes on and on. Point is nobody was "attacked". The scientist claims? I have zero clue what science they are using to put that statistic together. Again. There are sharks here every year. Each year goes by without problem so I'm not sure why the alarms are going off that we're in for a repeat of 1916. Lastly all the reminders of 1916 fail to be more about the lives of the victims rather than the fact that they were attacked. Many people right now are going around saying "In 1916 sharks attacked 5 people in New Jersey!" yet so many don't know who or any of the circumstances surrounding the attacks. In closing, I do not think there is any kind of elevated threat of a shark attack in New Jersey. The tiny threat remains a tiny threat as there is no real credible reason to believe that there is going to be an outbreak of attacks.

Thank you all for reading and have a safe and happy 4th of July for those of you in the USA. My next blog won't be until after the wedding on July 16th, so look for something new to pop up sometime after that!