Most of our regular readers know I have a deep and abiding interest in all things related to fish — which partially explains my love of fishing, the ocean and aquatic things in general. (The other reasons would undoubtedly fill chapters in psychology textbooks, but have little bearing on this discussion, so we will ignore those for now.)
As you can already surmise, I am fascinated by fish behavior, anatomy, biology and so on and so forth. This life-long fascination has led to a degree in marine biology as well as further certificates in wildlife management, forestry, conservation, aquaculture and even study in aquatic medicine.
(I don’t tell you these things to brag, but rather to give you some insight into where I am coming from.)
By the time I was in Jr. High, I had firmly made up my mind that I would study science and particularly marine biology.
Then the movie, Jaws, came out.
I vividly remember sitting in the theater, mesmerized yet scared out of my mind, watching the drama of that story unfold.
I remember the famous scene where Quint says, “You go in the cage? Cage goes in the water?… Shark’s in the water”…(then begins to sing) “Farewell and adieu me fair Spanish ladies, farewell and adieu, me ladies of Spain….”
Ironically, I saw the movie on a Friday night and the next Monday we were scheduled to take a two-week summer vacation trip up the coast to Vancouver. All along the way, my family planned to camp at the many wonderful beaches of the West Coast – right in the heart of the Red Triangle, the section of the U.S. coastline where the most cases of documented White Shark attacks had occurred over the last 100 years or so.
Needless to say, I did very little swimming, but a whole lot of watching.
But, besides giving me nightmares for a month, the other thing that movie did was transform my morbid curiosity about sharks (remember I was transitioning from Jr. High to High School) into a life long and sincere interest in them. If I had made up my mind prior to the movie to study marine bio., there was no doubt after the movie that I would study marine bio.
All that to say, that even today sharks hold a huge interest for me. I have two, possibly three whole bookshelves devoted solely to books on sharks. “Shark Week” is almost a reason in and of itself to get cable.
I like sharks.
Perhaps a better term would be respect and fascination with sharks. I look upon them as design perfection in action.
But, getting back to the movie. If you recall it at all, (I admit, I watch it every July 4th) there is a scene where the characters, having gotten drunk during dinner, are comparing scars acquired over their respective lives.
Hopper points to a bleached out spot on Quint’s arm where a tattoo used to be and says, “Let me guess….Mother.”
Quint gets serious and says, “That, Mr. Hopper, is the U.S.S. Indianapolis”.
Hopper quickly gets serious and we, along with Chief Brody get a quick, graphic history lesson about the U.S.S. Indianapolis and one of the most terrifying and tragic incidents in U.S. Naval history.
It is a riveting scene and based in reality.
I firmly believe that, as I went off to college and began working with professors and grad students who were studying sharks, every one of them had been affected by the story depicted in that scene (we all knew about it) and what it represented. I also believe that many were driven, in part, to study what they did because of that story. For many of us going to school in that time period, marine biology was synonomous with the study of sharks.
Now, as many of you may already be aware, one of the hottest trends in saltwater fly fishing right now, at least on the “Left Coast”, is kayak fishing for Mako sharks. And there is arguably no more knowledgeable or skillful shark flyfisherman than Conway Bowman . He has introduced countless individuals to the excitement, thrill and challenge of catching sharks on the fly.
He has systematically built a solid reputation as a fly fishing guide, shark expert, and conservationists and he has renewed public awareness of sharks.
Sharks are once again, hot ticket items – charismatic megafauna, as we say in the Zoo and Aquarium trade and they are spawning a whole slew of techniques, equipment and related travel categories centered around catching them.
Everybody seems to be talking about shark fishing.
So imagine my surprise the other day when I turned on the radio and came in on the middle of an interview with one of the survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.
Suddenly all of the giddy delight about sharks and shark fishing and catalogs with new gear and package deals and such all fell by the wayside and I was taken back to that long forgotten Friday night in the crowded theater watching Quint tell the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the fate of the men who served on her.
In the interview, Edgar Harrell, USMC related that out of the approximately 900 men that went into the water (out of a crew of 1196) at 1204 am August 1, 1945 he was one of ultimately just 317 survivors.
Just like Quint, he described the many horrors of being lost at sea. Only, when he recalled the terror of sharks attacking and killing scores of men during the four days that they drifted, helplessly at sea, you knew it was from the perspective of eyes that would never forget and that could still see those moments even if tightly shut.
After listening to his interview, I knew I had to get his book, Out of the Depths.
I did and I just finished reading it. It will make you proud of and grateful to the men and women who gave and are still giving their all for this country.
It is an unashamedly Christian book. If this bothers you, don’t read it. However, you must know that you will be missing out on one of the greatest stories of hope and survival you may ever have the privilege of reading.
Yes, it is a book about sharks, but it has a much, much greater message to tell and I can’t recommend it too highly.
Oh, and later this week, when July 31 and Aug 1 pop up on the calendar, take a moment to count your blessings and know that because of guys like Edgar Harrel and his shipmates and many, many others we have the freedom to engage in our favorite pastimes in one of the greatest countries on the planet.
I love this addiction called urban fly fishin’.