Sharks near Republic


Trevor Powell

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Are there any survivor accounts that mention sighting sharks near the ship as it was sinking or perhaps after their rescue? The ship did founder in shark infested waters.
Thought I'd throw this question out to the crowd.
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day Trevor -

I don't know if I'd call those waters particularly 'shark infested' unless there were schooling fish or other prey moving in the area, but there may have been blues, porbeagles, makos, threshers and possibly even great whites or hammerheads. Even the odd tiger and (once in a blue moon) oceanic white tip visit. Given the duration of the sinking, I suppose a curious shark or two might have been drawn in to have a sticky beak. Can't think of any accounts from witnesses seeing any off-hand, but I would also be interested in hearing any such reports.

There are some accounts of certain sinkings where I've found the apparent lack of sharks surprising - the loss of the Quetta in the Torres Strait springs to mind. Those tropical waters were rich in sharklife, and with survivors in the water for many, many hours after the sinking, you would expect more accounts of shark activity around the site. There is only one story I'm aware of concerning sharks following the sinking, and it's of slightly questionable provenance.

The rather macabre suggestion has been made that with such rich pickings in the wreck itself, with so many lost souls who never had the opportunity to escape from the ship, the sharks didn't feel the need to worry about survivors on the surface.

I remember Senan Molony reprinted in the WSJ a rather unsettling contemporary newspaper report about shark activity in the North Atlantic in the period after April, 1912...but even if accurate, I wonder if it might have had as much to do with currents and prey movements as with any surplus of unexpected food sources from the surface.
 

Senan Molony

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Sharks and the Lusitania:

Sharks at Scene of Disaster

A fisherman with whom we were speaking and who visited the scene of the disaster on Sunday says the sea is strewn with dead... a couple of sharks
were also seen in the neighbourhood, as well as numberless seabirds. The scene was indescribably pathetic.

(Cork County Eagle, 15 May 1915, p.11)

Huge fish are also swarming in the vicinity, which are attracted to the spot by the presence of the corpses. The sharks have torn away a portion of the leg of one of the victims and dreadfully mutilated other parts of the body.

(Cork Free Press, 14 May 1915, p.7)


There were similar tales about the Titanic.

Two observations:

1) Bodies can suffer amazing destruction in sinkings. Huge tissue loss, even limbs falling off, is also associated with later decomposition in sea water.

2) Sharks were presumed in the early years of the 20th century to be much more carnivorous than the actually are.

A bit of hysteria is always good box office.

While blood/smell famously attracts sharks over long distances, their presence wouldn't necessarily mean a feeding frenzy.

Inger is a shark lover and would know far more than I on this topic.

Personally I would imagine that voracious seabirds wrought the most predations on bodies in the Lusy disaster.

There are some horrific descriptions of 'sightless eyes,' etc.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>2) Sharks were presumed in the early years of the 20th century to be much more carnivorous than they actually are

Up until the 1916 New Jersey attacks, in the United States at least, shark attacks were considered folklore. One NY millionaire, Oelrichs by name, a physical culture and swimming buff buff, offered a fairly generous reward to anyone who could 'prove' that sharks represented a danger. I dont know if after the 1916 Twelve Days of Terror (a book well worth buying) the reward was paid or quietly shelved. I assume the latter, but he may have been a man of honor.

I would probably give better credence to any pre-1916 report(s) of sharks attacking a body than post. After the killer shark mania of that summer it seems like no major shipping disaster was allowed to pass without the obligatory Sharks Threatening The Survivors And Eating The Victims story. There is a lovingly detailed article about the mutilation suffered by the few Vestris cadavers recovered, complete with sharks following the recovery boats, but on the other hand when the Coast Guard was sent to recover the body of Andrea Doria victim Jeanette Carlin (which fell off the bow of the Stockholm the following morning and was seen to be floating) they reported finding nothing except for blood in the water and sharks and they, the Coast Guard, had no reason to add that gratuitous detail if it did not, in fact, happen. Similarly, a pathologist describing the remains recovered from the 1960 Brooklyn/Staten Island jet crash described the remains, in report, as being the "worst he had seen since the Morro Castle recovery" in terms of mutilation, and in the case of M.C. all but 4 of the victims died of exposure or broken necks and were recovered within the first few days, ruling out decomposition as a contributing factor. One odd detail- most of the victims of the M.C. died off of Spring Lake where, at the staff beach of the Essex and Sussex Hotel, one of the fatal 1916 attacks occurred.

>There are some horrific descriptions of 'sightless eyes,' etc.

"The head was in horrible condition, eyes, lips, nose, and interior of head completely gone, eaten by gulls and ravens, and the face had been 'made up' artificially by the embalmer, so that while the body answers the description of Joy Vifquain, and is the only child that description would fit, there is, as I have said, an element of doubt. Positive identification is impossible even by the father"

~Inspector Bell, cited in Taking The North Down With Her, describing the efforts to identify Princess Sophia victim Charlotte Joy Vifquain after the appearance of gulls.


Back on topic, concerning sharks near the sinking of the Republic: back when I was a kid, during the Jaws era, the general area of the wrecksite was where all of the crazed NYC tourists went to do their shark fishing. In retrospect it was all quite depressing, but at nine years old I found the sheer number of sharks brought in endlessly fascinating. (My parents gave me some spending money with which I purchased Baldridge's Shark Attacks on Man at the Montauk Pharmacy, and were then mountingly annoyed that I refused to go in the water for the balance of our holiday, but I digress....) 'though I watched all through the summer vacation, I never got to see a 'man eater' brought in. No Whites. No Tigers. No Makos. Not even the seriously underrated Bull Shark. Just an endless progression of Blues. So, chances are good that there were sharks in the vicinity of the Republic sinking but, from observations now 29 years old, chances are better than good that they posed little danger to those concerned.
 

Inger Sheil

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I love the Oelrichs story too, Jim...and would particularly like to know what sharks it was he allegedly scared off in the open-water man v. shark show down he staged (that was Oelrichs, wasn't it, and not one of his followers?). My money is on blues, given the location. He may have been fortunate in the timing of his little exploit - the elegant blue shark is not counted as a man eater but (as with most sharks) it should be treated with respect. I've heard accounts from people doing the now-popular cage blue shark cage diving who have noted that their mood can change, and go from a fairly mellow cruise to rapid moving agitation. It also doesn't help matters that the odd short-fin mako may show up - not a shark I'd like to mess with in open water. I heard them once described as being 'like a shark on speed', and it's apt.

I inadvertantly left bulls off my list, but you're right - they're one of the most underestimated of sharks. I'm one who believes that the Mattawan Creek attacks in 1916 were the work of one (or possibly more than one) bull sharks - I don't buy the single rampaging little great white theory at all, and side with shark researchers like Richard Ellis on the issue.

I'm glad you didn't see any of the big boys brought in during that sorry period of unrestrained shark killing - it's not an attractive or edifying site. One disturbing childhood sight involved own to my local beach to find shark entrails and parts strewn all over the natural rock platform - one of the neighbours had killed and hacked up a shark for the jaws. Not sure what (if it was a Grey Nurse/Sand Tiger, he was killing what was then an already protected species). On another occasion, another neighbour and my younger brother hooked a juvenile tiger - hauled it in and gutted it.

Did you see the photos of the massive 1,100 lb tiger shark caught in July during the annual 'Monster Shark' fishing competition of Martha's Vineyard this year? The previous year there was a spectacular female Mako caught. I do not like such competitions (although I support spearfishing for food), but at least I understand they make scientific use of the specimens caught.

Sharks are not random killers, and the 'feeding frenzy' is a rather over-rated event. Some years ago footage was shown in Oz of a great white feeding on a large elephant seal carcasse. The news voiceover described the shark as being in a 'feeding frenzy', when it was quite clearly simply eating. The thrashing motion it made once it had its jaws on a lump of flesh was simply to use its teeth in a sawing motion. I've even done the odd dive where sharks have been brought in with bait (a controversial practice), and far from snapping at anything in site, they were clearly focussed purely on the food. The sharks were much 'better' behaved than the potato groupers in once such dive, and once the food was gone, they dispersed.

Sharks are curious animals, and would be interested in unusual objects in their environment. They are also, however, cautious (not 'cowardly', as Oelrichs believed). I've watched them underwater slipping just in and out of the edge of vision, keeping pace in the blue. If you attempt to approach, they will maintain the same distance.

In the event of a shipwreck, I would think they'd be more inclined to hang off and observe, before coming in and bumping, nudging and 'mouthing'. It is survivors who are in the tropical waters for hours or days who are at the most risk. Unfortunately, injuries and erratic swimming movements on the surface may well attract sharks if they are in the area. I wouldn't want to be stranded on the surface overnight off, say, Queensland, and yet one survivor of the Quetta lasted more than a day. In a more recent case where three survivors found themselves in the water after their yacht sank near the Barrier Reef, two crewmen were picked off by a stalking tiger shark before the third made it to safety. In temperate water, exposure would be a much greater concern than shark attack.
quote:

2) Sharks were presumed in the early years of the 20th century to be much more carnivorous than the actually are.
Depends a bit on where/who you were. Australians, for example, were well-acquainted with shark attacks, and I imagine South Africans were as well. Sailors, too, knew about the dangers of sharks (Moody mentioned several showing up after he and some crewmen had gone for a swim in a South American port...he concluded that he didn't think he'd be doing any more swimming).

I haven't read the Fernicola book, but the Capuzzo book dealing with the same subject downplayed the sharks reputation for ferocity pre-1916. He did acknowledge that sailors and people living in some coastal regions (e.g. Oz) were aware of the dangers some sharks posed, but that the general attitude was that they were cowardly and not a potential threat. I'm not entirely sure of that - material I've read seems to indicate that the shark had a reputation for being a voracious feeding machine that would eat anything (an idea that persists today, in spite of the fact that not all sharks are opportunistic omnivors, and many are specialised feeders). Writers like Herman Melville had already introduced them to readers as voracious, frightening eating machines.

quote:

But sometimes, especially upon the Line in the Pacific, this plan will not answer at all; because such incalculable hosts of sharks gather round the moored carcase, that were he left so for six hours, say, on a stretch, little more than the skeleton would be visible by morning. In most other parts of the ocean, however, where these fish do not so largely abound, their wondrous voracity can be at times considerably diminished, by vigorously stirring them up with sharp whaling-spades, a procedure notwithstanding, which, in some instances, only seems to tickle them into still greater activity. But it was not thus in the present case with the Pequod's sharks; though, to be sure, any man unaccustomed to such sights, to have looked over her side that night, would have almost thought the whole round sea was one huge cheese, and those sharks the maggots in it.

Nevertheless, upon Stubb setting the anchor-watch after his supper was concluded; and when, accordingly Queequeg and a forecastle seaman came on deck, no small excitement was created among the sharks; for immediately suspending the cutting stages over the side, and lowering three lanterns, so that they cast long gleams of light over the turbid sea, these two mariners, darting their long whaling-spades,* kept up an incessant murdering of the sharks, by striking the keen steel deep into their skulls, seemingly their only vital part. But in the foamy confusion of their mixed and struggling hosts, the marksmen could not always hit their mark; and this brought about new revelations of the incredible ferocity of the foe. They viciously snapped, not only at each other's disembowelments, but like flexible bows, bent round, and bit their own; till those entrails seemed swallowed over and over again by the same mouth, to be oppositely voided by the gaping wound. Nor was this all. It was unsafe to meddle with the corpses and ghosts of these creatures. A sort of generic or Pantheistic vitality seemed to lurk in their very joints and bones, after what might be called the individual life had departed. Killed and hoisted on deck for the sake of his skin, one of these sharks almost took poor Queequeg's hand off, when he tried to shut down the dead lid of his murderous jaw.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>the elegant blue shark is not counted as a man eater but (as with most sharks) it should be treated with respect.

So true. It never ceases to amaze me (although I guess by this point that it should) that people- idiots, usually- will intentionally antagonize creatures capable of killing them (sharks, rattlesnakes) and apply the term "maneaters" or "hazards" when the predictable thing happens

> I don't buy the single rampaging little great white theory at all, and side with shark researchers like Richard Ellis on the issue.

I'm sitting on the fence about that one. I wish that the human remains found in the 8' Great White had not been lost or disposed of subsequent to 1916- analysis could potentially answer the question once and for all.

>One disturbing childhood sight involved own to my local beach to find shark entrails and parts strewn all over the natural rock platform

I have photos, not part of my online archive, taken during the summer of Jaws showing myself with the remains of several dozen immature sharks that washed ashore on the beach at Montauk after being dumped- presumably by the weekend warriors who killed them- close enough to shore for the tide to carry them to land. In effect, a section of beach was turned into a chum drift.

>Did you see the photos of the massive 1,100 lb tiger shark caught in July during the annual 'Monster Shark' fishing competition of Martha's Vineyard this year?... I do not like such competitions

Nor do I, and I missed seeing the photos which I would have found depressing anyway. In such sporting events I frequently find myself rooting for the bear or the shark. The appearance of an angry Megalodon in the center of such an event would induce a smile providing that no one, shark included, got hurt in the ensuing melee.

>I haven't read the Fernicola book

By all means do! It is, by far, the better of the two. He located witnesses to the attacks, extensively covered the scientific angle of the story, and did an all around excellent job.

Last year I had to attend a sales convention in Atlantic City, the high point of which (the only high point of the day) was getting to see the Mattawan Creek site for the first time.

(although I support spearfishing for food), but at least I understand they make scientific use of the specimens caught.
 

Inger Sheil

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I've been meaning to chase the Fernicola book since you mentioned it to me months ago, Jim. I was very disappointed in the Capuzzo book - bought it with great enthusiasm as I thought it was a series of events that really deserved a decent treatment, and found it aggravating from the point of view of his historical approach and his scientific research. The 'shark cam' scenes, which seemed to owe an aweful lot to Peter Benchley - were highly irritating. One particular scene, in which the shark cruises over a shipwreck, really had the teeth gnashing. I like my fiction and fact to be distinct. His glancing treatment of the possibility that the same shark was not responsible for all the creek and coastal attacks indicated to me that he was more interested in a good yarn than good history/science - the theory that the Mattawan Creek attacks may have been at least one bull shark was mentioned as a throwaway aside.

I agree that it's a terrible pity we don't have a decent analysis of what was found in the GWS. McClosky & Ellis had some interesting comments on the attacks and the analysis of the evidence in their superb book Great White Shark.
quote:

The appearance of an angry Megalodon in the center of such an event would induce a smile providing that no one, shark included, got hurt in the ensuing melee.
Amen, brother! Preach it!
happy.gif


Sharks can seem so alarming when viewed thrashing around feeding on the surface, or hauled up by the tail with bloody jaws agape. They're a very different creature viewed in their element below. Respect, I believe, encompasses respecting them as potentially dangerous. I have little sypathy for divers showing a bit of bravado in grabbing a wobbegong by the tail, as wobbies are supposed to be 'harmless'. Wobbies can twist back on their body length, and have a mean set of needle teeth that can clasp on and won't let go (as one chap found out not so long ago when he inadvertantly angered one - it latched on to his thigh and wouldn't let go, so he had to walk up out of the water and to the surf life club to get help, shark still attached).

99461.jpg
 

Dave Gittins

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I think we in South Australia can possibly claim the prize for the most idiotic behaviour involving sharks.

In 2001, a large whale, I think a southern right, died of natural causes. It was found floating in Backstairs Passage, the narrow strait between the mainland and Kangaroo Island. Our voracious white pointers found it and a number gathered to feast on it.

News got around and a boatload of spectators arrived. One or two of these left the boat and stood on the whale, while the sharks continued their meal. They got away with it!

I don't know if photos of this are on the Internet. I might have a look.
 
T

Trevor William Sturdy

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Hi Dave.
I remember seeing these "whale riders" on the news and being amazed at their stupidity(death wish) at the time. These sharks where doing what comes naturally and anyone who got in their way, or even worse, fell in amongst it would just become another link in the food chain. I fully intend in the next couple of years to head down you're way and go out on one of Rodney Fox's cage dives, but those cages had better be strong....regards.
 

Inger Sheil

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That story was broadcast internationally, Dave - I saw footage of it in the UK, and was aghast...particularly at one young mother with a child balancing on the dead whale. I admire Great Whites tremendously, but am alarmed at the over-familiar way in which some people have started interacting with them. There are instances of doco makers leaving cages and hitching rides by grabbing onto their caudal fins! If some of the cowboy behaviour continues, someone - sooner or later - is going to get taken on camera...and then there will be hysteria all over again.

Trevor, I've always wanted to do some cage diving with GWSs. I once went as far as phoning up my dive travel agent to book a trip, but was pursuaded by her that there wasn't a 100% guarantee of seeing them, it was very expensive etc etc. She talked me into heading up to the Solomon Islands for 10 days on a liveaboard instead. That was the trip of a lifetime, but I've always harboured a nagging regret that I didn't go to SA - particularly when I found out later that Rodney Fox was leading the expedition I'd phoned up to book.
 
T

Trevor William Sturdy

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Hi Inger,
Yes they are truly graceful creatures and a sight to see. I have had two encounters in my own boat while offshore fishing the coast here, and both times I was unsure whether to get the hell out of there or hang around and enjoy the experience. Thankfully He/She was just having a look on these occasions and peacefully swam off.
Rodney Fox's web site is very good and gives a schedule for upcoming dives and lays out the best times of year for greatest chances of sightings.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Hello, Inger: I felt the same way that you did aboput Capuzzo's book. Fortunately I read Fernicola first and so was not soured on teh subject matter. I'll admit that I snickered a bit at the sequences written from the shark's P.O.V. and sensed that what I was reading was actually an elaborate sceenplay outline and not a work of historic research per se.

Fernicola researched his book for over a decade and was able to meet many of the principals, and secondary eyewitnesses, from 1916. That, alone, is worth the cover price. Plus he is both a Doctor and a diver, so there are far fewer flights of fancy throughout.

Dead Whale Riding? Well, in my part of the country there are the rattlesnake round ups in which rattlesnakes are gathered, dumped into concrete cisterns and killed off by Alpha male sorts. Someone ALWAYS gets bit, and it is viewed as symbolic of how dangerous the snakes are, and not of how stupid it is to get into a concrete cistern filled with them, particularly after consuming a "sixer" or two. I feel about the diamondback the way you apparently do about the Great White. My town is literally in the center of nowhere, so we still grow them big (see photo of snake caught where my father insists on walking my dog- 9 foot)
big_snake.jpg


but fortunately the "round up" craze never caught on in the Panhandle. I see the necessity of killing them when they turn up in the school yard, or den under one's porch, but it bothers me to see people go out into the desert and destroy the dens for the sake of "just doing it." BTW- our local record is 12 feet and growing. That particular snake dens on a friend of my father's ranch and is so efficient at thinning the rodent herd that a 'mutual understanding' has been reached....we avoid the den, and leave the snake alone when it is out and about and, as of yet, it has never so much as rattled at anyone.

You should have gone with Rodney Fox, just for the sake of having done so!
 
Mar 23, 2004
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Sharks near Republic? Her cargo consisted of:

... 421 Tons of Government Provisions
Lost on the Republic.

280 carcasses sheep, 554 boxes pork loins, 340 sides veal, 600 cases frankfurters, 600 cases pork sausages, 205 cases bologna, 87 cases turkeys, 250 tubs butter, 500 cases eggs, 205 cases lunch meat, 816 quarters beef, 486 quarters beef, 147 barrels potatoes, 991 crates potatoes, 100 crates onions, 526 half-barrels hams, 420 cases corned beef, 222 cases bacon, 250 cases hams, 167 cases salmon, 250 sacks sugar, 84 cases chipped beef. ... Journal of Commerce, January 26, 09, 1:2

Talk about incentive. We were still recovering cases of sausage in 1987. No wonder that a report of a failed 1929 salvage attempt reported "huge sharks." They had a buffet!

"For almost twenty years, the wreck of the Republic remained undisturbed. Then a salvage crew from England located the wreck and began operations to recover the $3,000,000 in golden eagles. At a depth of 240 feet, it was a monumental task. Divers reported that the ship lay on her side. Slowly, the crew began to burn through the hull to get into the companionway that led to her safe. Once through her hull, they found the companionway cluttered with a tangle of steel girders and plates blocking their path. The depth the divers had to work in, the undependable weather, and the huge sharks infesting the water eventually forced the salvage crew to give up and return to England."
Source: Teddy Remick, in the January, 1976, issue of Lost Treasure Magazine, at Page 39. See quote at: http://rms-republic.com/story_rumor.html
 

Inger Sheil

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Great story there on the early dive, Martin - I'd love to know what the 'huge sharks' were! Reminds me of early reports on the wreck of the Yongala in the 50s, when divers noted that any recovery operations would be perilous as the wreck was infested with sharks, giant grouper and sea snakes. Now, it is precisely because of the rich sealife that the Yongala is such a popular site! I had a graceful seasnake follow me to the surface there once, and saw plenty of seasnakes crawling over the wreck. Huge grouper as advertised...not many sharks, although they often see tigers and bulls there.

You've sold me on Fernicola's book.

News story on the weekend - some beach fishermen at Newcastle on the NSW coast are bagging young Great Whites. They're doing this by paddling out on surfboards into the zone where young Whites congregate, dropping baited hooks, then paddling back in. !!!.

Good news is that they're working with conservations agencies on a tag and release scheme, gathering data on the movements of the sharks.
 

Trevor Powell

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Hi all, Thank you for your fascinating replies, I read them all with great interest. I will research further into the matter with a few other experts and post back.

>>I don't know if I'd call those waters particularly 'shark infested'<<

Hi Inger! Thanks for correcting me. A few sites and novels described the waters as 'shark infested' and I became prone to using that term.
 

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