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            February 6, 2007

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Panades, anyone? Valentin caught this bull shark on Caye Caulker Thursday - the excitement of the island.

A little bit before I got into the restaurant, Valentin (from Big Fish Dives) and Cass (a former Maritime Police Officer), were out in a Mexican style 25í lancha used for fishing. They were at The Cut in the reef between Caye Caulker and Caye Chapel, a private island looking to catch big snappers and groupers when their line was snagged by a bull shark. A big bull shark. The first account said it was a 15-foot shark and there were 3 of them, the second account said it was a 9-foot shark, 1000 lbs and that it was at The Split, some said they saw it at HolChan, some said they saw it at Shark-Ray Alley.

My ears perked up as I listened to the shark tale and embellishments and I joined in the conversation by asking a few questions of my own. As it was told to me, the last time a bull shark was killed was several years ago and there were 3 of them. Bull sharks rarely come inside the reef, and was even more rare that it came in during the day. So, to all of you snorkelers, donít get all excited now. Now that the shark was caught, the danger is past. Bigness had warned me about swimming at The Split (not to be confused with The Cut) at night. The big fish come in from the blue, beyond the reef and feed at night inside the reef. They come with high tide.

So, back to the Big Fish Story. The fisherfolk hanging at The Sandbox told me that the Bull Shark is the most dangerous of all sharks, even more dangerous than the Great White which lives way out in the Blue. The area that they caught the Bull shark was not in the marine reserve (because it is illegal to fish there) but at a favorite spot for where the cruise ship day trip guides take them to snorkel. If you snag a Bull Shark while fishing, most likely youíll be forced to kill it. You usually canít just cut the line and it will go away. This bull shark actually attacked the boat by ramming it and trying to break it up, and would have succeeded if they had not SHOT IT IN THE HEAD. Wow! The fisherfolk went on to explain that the fishermen donít want to kill the shark, they HAVE to kill it before it eats them. Bull sharks have been known to look like they are swimming away, get a certain distance, turn around to get a running start and lift themselves out of the water to bellyflop on top of a boat to sink it. In one instance, the fisherfolk told me, a shark bit the prop off a boat.

The bull shark is sometimes called the Zambezi Shark, named for the Zambezi River in Africa. It is the only shark that will swim in fresh water, often going 3-4 miles up the Belize River in search of food. The fisherman that I was talking to was a veritable encyclopedia of shark behaviour.

Carlos, a local guide had told us a few weeks ago that he thought there was a bull shark in the area, but that they usually hang around for 2-3 days and them move on to feed. He found a big dead eagle ray with its tail and back end bit right off floating on the back side of the island in the shallows.

So, back to The Fish StoryÖ Valentin and Cass shot the shark in the head after it attacked them, then towed it to shore as it was too big to lift into the boat. When they slit the belly open to clean out the guts, out poured 13 babies, each about 18Ē long. They speculate that she came inside the reef, high tide, daylight hours to have her babies and got tangled up with them. They regretted having to kill her.

Back before Caye Caulker was a tourist destination, men fished and built boats. The island was like one family with no crime, no police, no locks on doors, no roads, just picados between the houses. If someone slaughtered a pig, it was shared with everyone, you would just go and get your piece. Bignessís father ran the general store, where they had the only refrigerator, butane powered, and sold trays of ice for 10 cents. In true Caye Caulker island style, Valentin and Cuss cleaned and cut up the shark and gave it out to any villager that wanted free fish. They saved the liver though to press it for oil. Shark oil is a famous old remedy for EVERYTHING.

Lee Vanderwalker-Alamina
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