Editorial : What it was hardly matters
Post-Jaws, sharks are, to the susceptible, more menacing, more prevalent, and more heart-stopping than in the world before Quint, Amity, and shark expert Matt Hooper. Last week, Nelson Sigelman, The Times managing editor, reported great white shark sightings from several fishy types who are among his legion of knowledgeable alongshore sources. This week, TV news anchors are broadcasting the news and replaying the Jaws theme, plus a few clips from the 1975 Spielberg film. Whether the reported sightings will ever be confirmed, whether it was one or several great whites, or whether it, or they, were sporty basking sharks, benign beasts that, it turns out, heave themselves into the air on occasion for a look around and may appear an awful lot like the real, deadly thing, we'll probably never know. But, it doesn't matter.
Apart from the media's hyperventilation, similar by the way to their hysteria over impending coastal storms or traffic jams, most of us have only seen live sharks in nature videos. Or dead ones, hanging from a gallows at a fishing tournament. Only a few of us are fortunate to have visited with a great white shark that sojourned just a few years ago at Naushon Island.
On Sept. 21, 2004 a 14-foot, 1,700-pound, female great white shark was discovered swimming lazily around in a deep, narrow inlet leading north from Lackey's Bay at the east end of Naushon. The inlet led to a bridge beneath which the incoming tide swept herds of small bass and other species, out toward Vineyard Sound. The bridge is a regular swimming and fishing perch for Naushon family and guests, and one evening a swimmer north of the bridge heard great slapping, flapping noises in the current to the south. Thinking there must be some big sport fish in the water near her, she ended her evening dip. Next day, Chappaquiddick's own Edo Potter, standing on the bridge, saw a big swimming creature slip through beneath her. She described her observation to an old Naushon hand, who suspected she'd seen a really big bass, but when he chanced to get a glimpse of the hungry newcomer, he recognized it as the real thing.
For two weeks, the shark dined ferociously (although some shark experts worried that it might not be feeding as it should) and disdained the humans in the bleachers who watched excitedly. Then, as shark experts and pseudo-experts undertook to move her out of the inlet into Lackey's Bay and beyond - they worried that she might become disoriented and strand in the nearby shallows - she led them a merry, happy - for her - chase. She dodged into the inlets, and her wranglers followed, got ahead of her in their motor boats and herded her to the south. When she'd toyed with them sufficiently, she put on a burst of speed, dove a little and reappeared behind the posse with a taunting flip of her tail.
For lucky Vineyarders who sped over to Naushon in their motorboats each afternoon after work, it was a spectacle and a treat. And during that mild, sweet two weeks in spring, the onlookers lay in the grass above the mouth of the inlet, watching the rare, bloodless play of humans and animal, in an encounter both unforgettable and unlikely to be duplicated.
So, whether last week's news was a great white, a basking shark, a hank of seaweed on an uncharted rock, or a sun-struck illusion, the thought of the fabulous and mysterious creatures that we might meet in our seaside wanderings stirs the imagination, delights the senses, and quickens the pulse.