Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Very Big Fish Story

The other day I took myself out for an afternoon. I had my hair platted because I’m sick of having it in my face and tired of wearing it in a ponytail every day. The one requirement I gave to Feliciathehairbraider was to not make me look like one of those silly white women trying to go native. Leaving my hair down is as hot as wearing a bearskin rug. So after having my hair platted, I took a swim at the split. Its been, what we would consider, cold here lately. Low 70 degrees F during the day and down into the 60s at night. The day was the first in what have now been 3 days of sunshine and warm weather, which for us means over 80 degrees F.

After swimming I didn’t even carry myself home to shower and change as salt water is good for your skin. I just wrapped my sarong (around my fat ass), put my sunglasses on (because no one can see you if you're wearing sunglasses) and pedaled my bike down the beach path to the Sandbox for a late lunch. I like going to The Sandbox in the late afternoon, after the lunch rush, things are quiet, just locals usually. I can sit at a table in the corner and sip iced tea, read my book and eat in peace. Even with rising prices all over Belize, The Sandbox has basically the same prices as 3-4 years ago. I ordered de poke chop dinna, which was porktastic, and listened in as the island was abuzz with a Very Big Fish Story. (Note: photos were cobbed from the National Geographic Website and are not my own).

A little bit before I got into the restaurant, Valentin (from Big Fish Dives) and Cass (a former Maritime Police Officer), were out in a Mexican style 25’ lancha used for fishing. They were at The Cut in the reef between Caye Caulker and Caye Chapel, a private island looking to catch big snappers and groupers when their line was snagged by a bull shark. A big bull shark. The first account said it was a 15-foot shark and there were 3 of them, the second account said it was a 9-foot shark, 1000 lbs and that it was at The Split, some said they saw it at HolChan, some said they saw it at Shark-Ray Alley.

My ears perked up as I listened to the shark tale and embellishments and I joined in the conversation by asking a few questions of my own. As it was told to me, the last time a bull shark was killed was several years ago and there were 3 of them. Bull sharks rarely come inside the reef, and was even more rare that it came in during the day. So, to all of you snorkelers, don’t get all excited now. Now that the shark was caught, the danger is past. Bigness had warned me about swimming at The Split (not to be confused with The Cut) at night. The big fish come in from the blue, beyond the reef and feed at night inside the reef. They come with high tide.

So, back to the Big Fish Story. The fisherfolk hanging at The Sandbox told me that the Bull Shark is the most dangerous of all sharks, even more dangerous than the Great White which lives way out in the Blue. The area that they caught the Bull shark was not in the marine reserve (because it is illegal to fish there) but at a favorite spot for where the cruise ship day trip guides take them to snorkel. If you snag a Bull Shark while fishing, most likely you’ll be forced to kill it. You usually can’t just cut the line and it will go away. This bull shark actually attacked the boat by ramming it and trying to break it up, and would have succeeded if they had not SHOT IT IN THE HEAD. Wow! The fisherfolk went on to explain that the fishermen don’t want to kill the shark, they HAVE to kill it before it eats them. Bull sharks have been known to look like they are swimming away, get a certain distance, turn around to get a running start and lift themselves out of the water to bellyflop on top of a boat to sink it. In one instance, the fisherfolk told me, a shark bit the prop off a boat.

The bull shark is sometimes called the Zambezi Shark, named for the Zambezi River in Africa. It is the only shark that will swim in fresh water, often going 3-4 miles up the Belize River in search of food. The fisherman that I was talking to was a veritable encyclopedia of shark behaviour.

Carlos, a local guide had told us a few weeks ago that he thought there was a bull shark in the area, but that they usually hang around for 2-3 days and them move on to feed. He found a big dead eagle ray with its tail and back end bit right off floating on the back side of the island in the shallows.

So, back to The Fish Story… Valentin and Cass shot the shark in the head after it attacked them, then towed it to shore as it was too big to lift into the boat. When they slit the belly open to clean out the guts, out poured 13 babies, each about 18” long. They speculate that she came inside the reef, high tide, daylight hours to have her babies and got tangled up with them. They regretted having to kill her.

Back before Caye Caulker was a tourist destination, men fished and built boats. The island was like one family with no crime, no police, no locks on doors, no roads, just picados between the houses. If someone slaughtered a pig, it was shared with everyone, you would just go and get your piece. Bigness’s father ran the general store, where they had the only refrigerator, butane powered, and sold trays of ice for 10 cents. In true Caye Caulker island style, Valentin and Cuss cleaned and cut up the shark and gave it out to any villager that wanted free fish. They saved the liver though to press it for oil. Shark oil is a famous old remedy for EVERYTHING.

People are concerned that things are changing too quickly on Caye Caulker. There are so many people we don’t know here, and a few years ago, I was one of those new people. I wish they had slammed the door shut behind me. It warmed my heart to see that the tradition of sharing amongst your people was still being practiced.

You could argue that the fish were here first, that its people who are messing things up in the world, but I'm glad that we're not reading a headline like: Another Missing Tourist in Shark & Ray Alley.

Here’s a link to a really informative website at the Florida Museum of Natural History


Mary Beth said...

Wow! I live for this stuff. And I would NEVER EVER ON A DARE swim at the split at night. Thanks for a great post. I just love a good fish story. MB

BamaBlitz said...

Of course they had to kill the shark! Everything you said about the buggers being bad is true (except the jump in the boat thing). These sharks are really bad dudes! Here in Alabama and Northweest Florida they have been wreaking havoc! Several deaths and missing limbs in the last few years. I know they were there first, but I'm sorry they gon have to learn to share and be nice. If not, they get what they deserve. That's why God gave us thumbs (so we can shoot de gun).

My son and I saw about a 6 foot shark out on the reef there a couple of years ago and the guide from ANWAR swore to me that there was never anything but nurse sharks there. Now you got me wondering.

Enjoy your lunch!

Caribbean Colors said...

Well silly me, I had been known to swim at the split after dark, before I knew Bigness. Not right in the channel but at Baby Beach, which is the south end.
I've been right at the channel, when they turned the big lights on to attract the big tarpon who were in swimming around like puppies. So close you could almost tough them from shore. Amazing.

Panades for everyone!

We were in PLacencia a couple of months ago swimming in front of Lydia's Place near sunset, when we came out of the water she scolded us because its the place the stingray feed at sundown. Oops!

Another great place to see fish after sundown is right at the main peir. If you sit still long enough you'll see big stingrays glide beneath you like creatures from another world.

Guyana-Gyal said...

You're blogging lots again! Yay. You're back!

Shark tale reminds me of Hemmingway's book about the old man and the sea.

BamaBlitz said...

From what I understand just before daylight and right at sunset is the most likely time for something to happen. "They say" it has something to do with them not being able to see clearly at that time. Turns out you were right about the boat thing, too! Check this out! (hope it works)