Last Saturday I was sprayed with shark blood in the name of sportsmanship and science. And money, too. The 23rd annual Martha's Vineyard Shark Tournament brought in 130 boats at $1,500 a piece from all over the east coast. Friday and Saturday they scooted 15 miles off shore to hook the monsters in hopes of attaining alluring prizes like another boat or cash. For the scientists that collect information and the shark's organs and 'nads, the tournament is a field day of data. Only two boats sunk on Friday due to the ten-foot seas, but Saturday was calmer and I documented the glory on shore in sunny Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.
I wanted to get the inside scoop on what really went on during the day when the fishermen went out so I met a few of them the night before the weigh-in.
They left each morning at 4 AM and I really wanted to go out with them. I said I was OK with getting up early but no one seemed to want me on their boat, claiming I would surely throw up everywhere. Maybe so, but I was still determined to get as close as possible to the action.
My newest friend, Steve James, is the president of the Boston Big Game Fishing Club, which sponsors the tournament. I was told if I wanted to get close to the shark weigh-ins I would have to get his permission. So I did. It took some serious convincing though because I, like an idiot, had dressed like a flower earth child on Saturday so Steve thought I was an animal rights activist trying to foil the tournament. I had to show him that I was wearing leather shoes, which he noted were "very New York," and told him I had eaten a hamburger two weeks ago. The best lesson I learned was to never again expect that I can charm my way past barriers. Vice needs to give me a press pass. Just sayin'.
He told me about an hour after he let me inside the "inner circle" that I was taking too many "blood and guts" shots and not enough of the children in the crowd. "Why does a girl like you want to take pictures like that? I’m just asking you a straightforward question," he asked. "Do yourself a favor and take some pictures of the kids in the crowd." I did that to appease him, but you've seen kids before and they're old-hat.
I wanted to get pictures of the fishermen, their bounty, and the protesters. But where were the protesters? This is a historically controversial tournament but Steve let me in on some secrets. "This whole sport fishing jihad that the Humane Society of the US has come up with, targeting people that are catching sharks, is completely misguided, is misinformed, is propaganda at its very finest. It represents very deviant thoughts—and the ideas of vegans. They’re trying to impose their religious views, if you will, upon the world." Those devil vegans.
Steve told me he actually had no problem with vegans, he just didn't like people imposing their views upon him personally, which is understandable.
He was pleased because the protesters, "Don’t have any money this year, so they aren’t here. Plus they committed political suicide here last year by accusing the Oak Bluffs police department [and harbormaster] of being involved in illicit gambling. They don’t have the audacity to show up now. They’re basically a professional harassment organization."
This man was very nice and I loved his white boots and shark tooth necklace. "I’m just a helper here," he said. "We’re studying reproductive size, the fish’s overall weight, overall length. Some other people are taking spiral valves—all the bits of the shark are being recorded. And the meat is all used. It’s excellent eating. But there are so many scientists here. Every organ is going to a scientist."
This scientist had shark's blood on her arm but she was cool and collected and wasn't flipped out. I was a little flipped out. "We are formerly of Salem State College but we’ve all graduated now and are working on independent research. We are doing the paristiology of the spiral valve. We’re looking to see what sort of parasites these animals have and then look in comparison to the stomach content analysis to see if they’re getting the parasites from their food or the environment. We’re mostly finding cestodes or tapeworms today. Usually the presence of tapeworms will deplete the animal of its nutrition and can be a factor in premature death," she said. I told her that was impossible because it was a fatty. "Yeah but his spiral valve didn’t look very good. They can look good from the outside but the inside is a whole different story. We’ve done about 30 sharks in the five years we’ve been here."
"We had a bite probably…half hour after we started chumming. We caught four or five blue sharks before we caught this one. They were anywhere from five to seven feet," said the man who caught the second thresher shark. I wanted to know which shark was the cutest because animal rights activists love cute things and I was pushing the boundaries. "[Threshers] don’t have such a bad dental plan as the mako. They have much smaller teeth."
Some of the crews were keeping parts of the shark so they would have proof to show their friends later. "We’re keeping it all. It’s excellent to eat. They’re going to steak it up for us in quarters and then you grill them." He invited me to join them for the cookout later but my mom was making salmon, which I feel more comfortable with.