Monday, September 16, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sharks

     This post topic gives me another excuse to revisit some history from my home state.  Much of this information I got from Richard G. Fernicola's 2001 book, "Twelve Days of Terror," which I highly recommend, as it's both interesting and readable.
     Sharks are mysterious creatures.  Even today, many aspects of their lives are unknown to us.  This was even worse back in the early 1900's.  At that time, scientists thought that sharks wouldn't attack a living person, at least in temperate (non-tropical) waters.  American Museum Director, and respected shark researcher Dr. Frederic Lucas opined in April, 1916 that even a 30 foot shark couldn't even directly bite off a human bone in one take, and asserted that a shark "is not particularly strong in the jaws."
     A few months later these statements made the scientists look ridiculously and tragically incorrect. On July 1st in Beach Haven, NJ Charles Vansant was attacked by a shark while swimming in the ocean, and died from his wounds.  Then, just five days later in Spring Lake, NJ, another man, Charles Bruder, had the same thing happen to him.  Predictably, panic ensued amongst the summer vacationers, and across the country in general.  But it wasn't over.  On July 12th, while swimming in Matawan Creek, a brackish tidal river well up from the ocean, preteen Lester Stillwell was brutally killed by a shark.  When adult Stanley Fisher was trying to recover the boy's body he was then set upon by the animal, and like the men before him he later succumbed to his wounds.  Then, shortly afterwards young Joseph Dunn, who was swimming slightly down Matawan Creek, was also attacked.  His friends literally pulled him for the shark's jaws, and although his injuries were serious, he did survive.
     In the aftermath, many sharks were killed, and various theories abounded.  Various possible culprits were put forward.  The arguments continue into the present day.  Historically, three types of sharks are the most likely to attack humans in shallow waters--the great white, tiger, and bull shark.  Many think that the Jersey Maneater was a bull shark, since this species has the very rare ability to live in fresh or salty water, meaning it would have had no problem swimming up the Matawan Creek, especially.  However, author Fernicola, and some others think that a great white was responsible as among other things a 7.5 foot great white was killed two days later, and human flesh and bones were found in its stomach.  In those pre- modern forensic days, there wasn't even a clear consensus on which particular bones were recovered.  And nowadays DNA testing could have solved the mystery pretty quickly, of course.
     The great novel "Jaws" by Peter Benchley, and the awesome Spielberg movie based on it, were largely inspired by the Jersey events.  The scientific, and fun TV show "Mythbusters" explored some of the events in the film, and came back with a mixed bag of results.  A sufficiently large shark could possibly pierce a boat, and break a shark cage, they found.  However, while a large shark could temporarily submerge multiple barrels, it couldn't keep them down, nor could it tow a boat the size of the "Orca."  Most notably, a scuba tank struck by a bullet doesn't really explode, so poor Sheriff Brody would have been screwed.  (None of these revelations affect my enjoyment of the movie, though--but I do find them interesting.)
     The "Jaws" series declined fairly quickly, however.  I consider "Jaws 2" to be decent, but "Jaws 3" and "Jaws 4 : The Revenge" were atrocious.   (Spoilers, if anyone cares) "Jaws the Revenge" took a throwaway funny line from the 2nd one, "Sharks don't take things personally, Mr. Brody," and created a movie around this.  A shark has declared a vendetta against the Brody family, and follows Sheriff Brody's widow, Ellen, from the New England area all the way down to the Bahamas.  To add to the absurdity, Ellen seems to have a psychic link with the killer animal!  Later, before it expires, the shark is heard to roar like a lion (which of course they can't do)!  I do enjoy actor Michael Caine's quote about "Jaws the Revenge" though--"I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible.  However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!"
     But let's get to the shark I ate, finally.  While vacationing in England as a boy, I (of course) had some fish and chips, one of their staples.  It's simple fare--breaded and fried fish, with fried potatoes ("chips" to the English, "French fries" or just "fries" to Americans), but it's usually effective.  While other fish species are sometimes used , such as cod, the English also commonly use a type of shark, which they call "Huss."  This is a small (2.5 to 5 foot) shark that's also known as the spurdog, mud shark, or spiny dogfish.  Their spines are rather nasty, too--they contain a venom that is mildly toxic to humans.  Anyway, it was long ago, but I remember liking shark, preferring it to the regular cod.  Since I wasn't as experimental about trying exotic foods as a kid, this is somewhat surprising.  I wonder if my folks told me it was shark before or after I ate and enjoyed it, even.  I would certainly recommend it on taste, but alas, the mud shark has been overfished, and of late its population is threatened.  Hopefully, it will rebound, and more can enjoy it without devastating effect.
     To recap then, shark itself, "Jaws," (book and movie), "Jaws 2" and "Twelve Days of Terror" are all good to great.  "Jaws 3" isn't worth your time, even though it was in 3-D.  "Jaws 4:  The Revenge" was watchable only in an ironic, "so bad it's good," sort of way.

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