Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Devil's Teeth

Every fall, one of the world's largest and densest congregations of great white sharks assembles in the waters surrounding the Farallones, a 211-acre archipelago of 10 islets 27 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge...At the Farallon Islands during September, October and November, your chances of meeting a great white face-to-face are better than 50-50, should you be crazy enough or unlucky enough to end up in the water.

That's an excerpt from a riveting article in this week's Sports Illustrated about the Farallon White Shark Project, a study that has been ongoing for the last fifteen years. It is absolutely sensational reading, and it's part of a book ("The Devil's Teeth," which is the nickname of the Farallon Islands) that's coming out in June.

If you subscribe to Sports Illustrated, don't miss this article. If you don't subscribe, it's worth buying a single issue just for this article alone. I'll check the SI website every few days to see if it goes online.

Oh, and if you're wondering just how big a great white can be, consider these dimensions from the article:
The first thing I noticed about the shark was its immense girth. I had known that a shark might be as long as the Whaler, but I didn't expect it to be as wide too. A 20-foot shark is eight feet wide and six feet deep.

Eight feet wide and six feet deep. Yikes! Here's one last excerpt (they use surfboards as decoys to get the sharks to surface, because the silhouettes resemble that of a seal's ):
According to Scot and Peter, the Queen Annihilator of Surfboards was a shark named Stumpy. Stumpy was 19 feet long and weighed 5,000 pounds, and when she was in residence, she ruled the Farallones. "She was the only shark that I think understood what we were trying to do," Peter recalled, "and she didn't care for it. When Scot was first putting out the decoys, Stumpy would just come up and destroy them, more because she didn't like them than because she was fooled by their silhouettes."

Stumpy patrolled a swath of sea near the main boat-launching spot at East Landing. For prey, this was not an advisable route onto shore. "No seal gets by her," Peter said. And while other sharks would take 20 minutes or more to consume their kills, Stumpy could polish off a 500-pound elephant seal in three minutes flat. Though the distinctively cropped tail fin that earned Stumpy her name hadn't been spotted for several years, Scot and Peter still talked about her with awe. "Stumpy was a goddess," Peter said. One time, Scot rigged a video camera under a surfboard to determine the angle from which the sharks attacked. He set the board adrift off East Landing. Right on cue Stumpy went at it with everything she had. The resulting footage was stunning, all teeth and whitewater and smashing noises that brought to mind a subaquatic train wreck. It was the first time anyone had successfully filmed a great white shark underwater in California.

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