Gone Fishin' : Basking shark is one of largest seen in our waters
Greg Skomal, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) biologist and shark expert, has traveled to a variety of exotic and strange locations to study sharks. Those destinations have included the Great Barrier Reef off Australia and the Red Sea in the Middle East. On Sunday he only needed to go to Gay Head.
Saturday afternoon Aquinnah police called Greg to tell him that a large shark had washed up on the beach. He grabbed a kitchen knife because his dissection kit was at his New Bedford laboratory and went to take a look at the fish, accompanied by his two-year-old son, Wilson, and wife, Kimberly.
Greg likely thought of the line in that famous fish movie when the Amity police chief sees the shark and says they will need a bigger boat, only Greg was going to need a bigger and sharper knife.
The basking shark was 30 feet long and likely weighed about 5,000 pounds said Greg. When he arrived it was rolling in the surf washing up on Moshup Beach within sight of the Gay Head Cliffs.
Greg said that for a brief moment he thought of donning his waders in order to get closer to the shark. Then he considered what might happen if the fish rolled the wrong way - sushi for Greg.
On Sunday he arrived better prepared to examine the fish. A team of volunteer assistants - including Jeff Kneebone, a doctoral student from Univ. of Mass Dartmouth, Louis Hall, a MV Charter School teacher, and Justen Walker, educational coordinator and camp director for Felix Neck - accompanied Greg and lent a hand in the arduous task of dissecting the fish.
I asked Greg if the basking shark washed up with one of my fishing plugs in its mouth. "The day one of those fish takes a lure is the day sportfishing changes," Greg said.
Sunday was a beautiful day. Greg and his team first measured the fish, and then began a dissection that included taking samples of the liver, reproductive organs, and backbone.
Cutting into a basking shark is not easy. The scales are basically teeth and very abrasive. "It was the biggest one I've ever cut," said Greg. "I shredded my hands just leaning on it."
The shark was a male and appeared to be in perfect health and pristine shape. The claspers, the sharks sex organs, were three feet long. "It was an amazing fish," he said.