Run-ins with Sharks

By Jack Sheedy

A short entry to finish off the short month of February:

With an increased presence of great whites in Cape Cod waters during recent years, and with a long history of Cape Cod fishermen working the waters around the peninsula, it is not surprising that there were run-ins with sharks over the centuries. Here are some examples.

In 1878, a Woods Hole fisherman by the name of Charlie Healy caught what he described as “a good size shark,” which he then hauled onto his boat. As the fisherman reached for a club, the shark had other plans and bit Healy on the arm. Perhaps due to blood loss, the fisherman became faint. Another fisherman happened by and attended to him. It is unknown what happened to the shark -- perhaps it escaped and returned to the sea. Healy survived the ordeal.

Another Woods Hole fisherman, Frank Gifford, encountered a number of sharks in Buzzards Bay while scup fishing during August 1892. He managed to capture a 75-lb shark, which attracted a larger one – seven feet in length, compared with Gifford’s 13-foot boat. He was able to catch the second shark using a hook.

Off Provincetown, in June 1857, a “bone” shark measuring 30 feet long was captured in a mackerel net. It was described in a newspaper account as the largest shark caught at Provincetown Harbor. The creature’s one and a half-ton liver produced eight barrels of oil. Two years later, in September 1859, a nine-foot long man-eater was caught off Long Point using a harpoon. At Brewster, in November 1900, a 12-foot shark was caught in a fish weir.

In July 1929, while swimming at Craigville Beach, Navy Lt. Robert B. Yortson was attacked by a three-foot shark just beyond the outer float, well off the beach. Yortson saw the shark coming just before it bit him on his left hand. He fought off the creature by punching it on the snout. The injury to Yortson’s hand was not serious.

We’ll conclude with a story from 1891. While at Panama aboard the Dennis vessel Marjorie (a four-masted schooner commanded by a Capt. Edwards) a certain crewman made a fuss about having to perform his duties and was put in irons. At some point that crewman attempted to make his escape by stealing one of the ship’s boats when he fell overboard…and was swiftly attacked and devoured by a man-eating shark.

Jack Sheedy is co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.

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