The Day Everything Went Right - 8/11/03

I'd like to start off saying that the following photographs were all shot with one of those cheapo disposable cameras. Unfortunately, the good camera with telephoto is an equally impressive bad-luck charm, so alas we didn't have it with us. The damn 28mm lens on these disposable jobs make everything look even more distant than they actually are. Still, I'm grateful any at all came out.

After a good first day fishing, we decided to give reef fishing another try. The day before it was hellishly rough getting offshore, and it was supposed to be the same the next day. For this reason, we wanted to stay in calmer waters. We've had about 0% success on the reef, and some practice was in order. On the way out, there was a large thunderstorm offshore, from which a waterspout spiraled down. Always a neat thing to see, so we were off to a good start. Unfortunately, once we got anchored and put some chum in the water, we realized there was absolutely no current. In my boredom, I was looking at the clouds, trying to avoid watching bits of fish float straight down, instead of forming a nice slick back behind us. One cloud was peculiar, in that it was brilliantly rainbow-colored, like an oil bubble floating in the sky. Some days, these two things would suffice for the "cool things of the day." Not so, today.

A barracuda decided to show up, and scare what few fish we had attracted away. Fed up with the dismal fishing conditions, we agreed to run offshore and take advantage of this beautifully calm water and try fishing for more blackfin tuna. Usually it is an uneventful 17 mile run, but I spotted a patch of foam, typical of a whitecap. However, it was far too calm for any wave to break like that today. I kept watching, and was surprised to see a sailfish freejumping out of the water. Not a common thing to see, I was further impressed to see it continue jumping--about 15 times.

Encouraged, we pressed on, and started pulling in tuna before we could finish putting baits out. A local captain friend of ours was nearby, and joked on the radio wondering what "secret weapon" we had on board, before he jetted offshore in pursuit of dolphin. About an hour later, he hailed us on the radio:

"Hey, I found a whale."

We thought, "Congratulations! Want a pat on the back?" until he continued, "It's a dead sperm whale. There's a school of dolphin on it, and we've seen a big tiger shark." We couldn't have pulled in the baits faster to catch up. He was another 7 miles out, but with the ocean so calm, it was minutes before we arrived. About as soon as we saw this hulking mass in the water, the smell hit us. Imagine whatever you think the worst smell in the world is, and it is perfume next to the rotting carcass of a several-ton whale.

Brian, middle, captain of the 27' WorldCat

The whale.

A side view, showing how deep the lower jaw was. The lower jaw was probably 7 or 8 feet long.

A comparison for size. The boat in the background is 27' long, showing the carcass is easily 20', even missing a good portion of its tail. Still, this was a baby, as sperm whales get 60'+.

A much closer view.

An unfortunate consequence of the crappy camera used is that you can't see the enormous column of blood pouring out of this body. Even as just the remains of its back, there must have been a thick cloud of blood extending a couple hundred feet down into the sea. The oil and fat from the body helped create a slick on the water that extended for easily half a mile in all directions. There were even droplets of oil and blubber floating on the water. Yum.

At this point, we had caught a few dolphin and Brian was off to look for more. He joked about trying to get ahold of that jaw, as they could sell upwards of $10,000. I was so shocked I wasn't thinking, and just imagined what a cool 'souvenir' that would be. Instead, I asked if we ought to try and get a tooth, having completely forgotten that the teeth are ivory. We made a pass, and I reached overboard as far as I could with an 8-foot gaff, trying to reach under the jaw (yes, it was down that deep). After a few tries, I finally got a hold, and tried lifting it up. Let me stop and tell you now, that trying to lift a whale is easily the heaviest thing I had ever attempted. Straining with all my strength, my dad managed to loop a rope around the lower jaw, which we then tied off to a kleat on the boat to hold it up. I now noticed the grip on the gaff had nearly torn completely off from the weight, and the calluses on my palms from bicycling were all torn off. Time to try and get a tooth.

There was still a few inches of gum/flesh on the jaw, which helped hold the teeth in place. After about half an hour working at it with knives, pliers, and lots of wiggling, we were about to give up. There was one other boat nearby, still fishing for dolphin, and he called out "there's something big feeding over there!" and pointed about 150 feet off to our right. Sure enough, the water was boiling and birds were diving. In the next 2 seconds, we saw a 250+ lb. blue marlin racing out of the water, swatting schoolie dolphin with its bill, and swallowing them like candy. The most astonishing thing is that the fish was so engrossed in feeding it was oblivious to its surroundings, and nearly leapt right into our boat, turning at the last moment, mere feet from us. The exhiliration was incredible, so we set back to pulling teeth in shifts. Finally, one came loose with the added trick of twisting, which is not easy when they're covered with flesh and slime. Encouraged, my dad tried working on a second tooth, when I saw a hulking mass cruise up underneat the hulking mass tied to our boat--it was the tiger shark!

The teeth. Not cleaned up fully yet, and notched from the knife we used to cut away the gums, but still very cool.

This wasn't just any tiger shark, however. This monster was around 16' long, and must have weighed at least 1000lbs; it was nearly as large as the whale carcass! Its head was at least 2 feet wide. It's one thing to see a tiger shark, as they are fairly rare these days. To see one of "JAWS" proportions is awe-inspiring. We finished pulling a second tooth, and then untied the carcass. As we drifted a little bit away, the shark made another pass. As I watched its travel, something moved in the corner of my eye near the whale. It was a SECOND tiger shark! This one was a 'mere' 13' long, weighing around 400lbs.

The small shark. I wasn't able to get any good pictures of the big one :(

Cautiously curious.

Here you can see a good likeness of how large even the small shark was. Keep in mind, that carcass is around 20 feet long. Add another 4' and you can see just how gigantic the larger shark is.

After a few passes, I was standing on the bow, trying to get closer for pictures. My dad called for me to get to the back, as the shark was about to attack the propellers on our engines. Luckily, it just brushed its body against them in curiosity. Satisfied we were not a threat, it went on to feed on the whale.

Here you can see the smaller shark's head completely out of the water. Outside of this small lens, you could see its eyes roll back for protection as it shook, tearing huge chunks of flesh off.

After teasing the shark closer one last time by thrashing the gaff in the water, we decided to head back. We had very little ice left for the tuna in the fishbox, and so concludes the coolest day ever ;)

The next day was nowhere near as eventful, but one interesting thing did happen. We caught the biggest blackfin we've had all year, but unfortunately, something else thought it would be more delicious. It fought very well, then went slack. Once we got the line into the boat, we saw it was just a head, with a razor-precise line behind the gills. Could've been a big wahoo, or maybe another shark, who knows :X