Sharks Without the Bite

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    By Margo Simon

    I saw my first shark today, albeit in pieces. I had hoped that while diving in the wild waters of Madagascar, I would come across a multitude of fascinating sea creatures, especially sharks, although hopefully from a safe enough distance. As it turns out, there was no danger of attack at the jaws of the hammerhead and silky that lay near my feet. Eyes glassy, innards exposed, they looked much less frightening than I had imagined. I reached out to touch the leathery head of the silky and felt a pang of regret that these once breathtaking beasts would no longer weave through the waters, would never get the chance to reach their adult size and make young of their own. For they were young; the silky was only about two meters in length while the hammerhead was a mere one and a half. My only consolation was the knowledge that these sharks would be put to good use, not a single part wasted.

    The fishermen who had caught the sharks were just returning to Andavadoaka in their pirogue when my fellow divers and I motored to shore. It was around 11am and I had just conducted a benthic point out at a near shore site. We anchored Madablu, the boat we were on, turned to the other boat that had just arrived as well, and saw some of the other volunteers making the hand signal for shark. They shouted that some fisherman had caught two sharks and were taking them to the village to be processed. After cleaning up my gear and grabbing my camera, which couldn’t have taken more than ten minutes, my cabin mates and I walked quickly across the beach with hopes of seeing the sharks with our own eyes. Yet, when I arrived, I was not greeted by the sight of two ferocious sharks, but by the spine and head of a one and the quickly disappearing meat of another. The hammerhead’s internal organs lay near the curved spine and below a rectangular head. The spine and internal organs of the silky were becoming more visible as foot long wads of flesh were being cut apart and handed to various villagers. I was surprised at how quickly the sharks had disappeared and disappointed that I would not be able to see either of them whole. Our resident shark expert was standing nearby, waiting to bring back a piece of spine to analyze, looking part forlorn, part queasy. It was not exactly an image that inspired an appetite. I took a few pictures and walked back to my cabin, feeling slightly unnerved. I knew that a shark was a wonderful find for a fisherman, both because it yields much meat, and because a shark’s fin is worth a good deal of money, yet I could not help feeling a bit downhearted. I would rather the sharks were left alone. Although I am sure that our shark enthusiast felt the same, she did help put the situation into perspective. Fishermen would always catch sharks, but wasn’t I glad that the shark was being used quickly and that almost nothing was wasted? I must admit, I was.