Four days of shooting, diving and observing white shark behaviour with our team of shark specialists for Outside Magazine, I hear one more shark tale on our final evening in a local Mossel Bay watering hole.
While processing the day’s shots and having a pre-supper beer, I noticed an elderly gentleman sitting by himself working his way through his multiple course meal. The waitress was asking us a ton of questions while we scrolled through the pictures on the laptop screen, for someone who lives in shark central I thought her general shark knowledge was strangely poor.
A voice from across the room asked if we got the shot, it was the lone diner, he had finished his main dish and was now on dessert; ice cream and a glass of the house red. He said back in ’74, long before the sharks were the main attraction in Mossel Bay, he had an idea to make a pile of easy money during the December holidays.
He organised a water tank from a friend in the neighbouring town and had it delivered to the Point parking lot. The idea was to fill the tank with sea water and drop a White Shark into it. An attraction the summer crowds would surely line up and empty their wallets for. I imagined a White Shark petting tank.
Things started taking shape, with the tank in place all he needed was the shark. They set out for Seal Island on his small boat. Seal Island is ground zero for White Sharks and their prey, juvenile seals.
With the first line in the water, they sat back and waited for a bite. Unfortunately, the line disappeared, float drum and all, apparently it was a huge shark. I was starting to wonder if this guy was getting ‘Jaws’ and reality a little mixed up.
The second line went in and this time with success. The shark was brought alongside and strapped to the boat. They motored around to keep water flowing through the gills and the shark alive. At this stage, another friend with a helicopter was summoned. On his arrival, a rope was passed from helicopter to boat and tied around the sharks tail. With the shark hoisted from the water and head pointing vertically downward, they flew over the small seaside town to the waiting water tank.
On arrival at the Point, the shark was lowered into the tank. Understandably there was nobody willing to go near the descending gaping mouth of a White Shark to help guide it gently into the tank, so the fish landed teeth first and punctured the plastic. I paused the narrative at this point and inquired on the thickness of the tank to which he replied a couple of millimetres. It wasn’t really a tank but rather one of those backyard porta pools, the wire frame and flimsy plastic kind, the same kind that will spring a leak at the mere sight of the family dog’s toe nails and any foreign object other than kiddies swim suits and arm bands.
As amusing as the story was, I was crying on the inside at the sheer cruelty of it all, the shark’s flight downtown followed with its life slowly slipping away as the water seeped out of the swimming pool. But this was 1974 and although we still have a long way to go, shark conservation and awareness has improved over recent years. Allen is also a really cool guy, it was hard to be pissed off with him. Having to reimburse his friend for the ripped porta pool sounded like a little justice was served for the silly idea.