[shark fin]

The Shark That Ate The Johnsons

by Dr. Ray McAllister

[Dr. McAllister is Professor of Ocean Engineering (Emeritus) at the Department of Ocean Engineering, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida 33431]

Sometimes the best fish stories are true. I have known the author of this one for some time and am convinced of his veracity. Details may have been exaggerated in the telling, but I believe the story and if you like tall tales, this is about as tall as they get.

My friend, who will instantly be known to two orthopedic surgeons and an anesthesiologist who are rabid fishermen, will be called Bob for the purposes of this story. Bob and the doctors above went to Club Pacifico on the Panamanian Island of Coiba, where they staged for the area of Isla Coiba about 30 miles west. This all occurred in March 1973 or so. In March the congrejos, our blue crabs in shape, come to the surface in large numbers to feed or mate, and naturally they draw an enormous following of predators, who eat them. Among these predators are large silk snappers, which are themselves excellent sportfish. With numbers of silk snappers come their predators, cubera snapper, normally not seen at the surface, except under these circumstances. Cuberas feed on the silk snappers and the congrejos and run from 30 to perhaps 120 pounds. With this many silks and cuberas, and the congrejos, other predators come in to feed, too.

Bob tells me that be has never, in many years of fishing all over the northern hemisphere, seen as many or as large sharks in one place. At any time there were 10 to 20 sharks in sight and many of them upwards of 10 feet. He says 15 to 18 foot sharks, by comparison with the boats (20 foot makos) were common (as unbelievable as it seems). One in particular was seen by all four of the fishermen and their guide. All four agreed that the shark was 30 feet long (although they cut it to 25 in the telling, because a 30 foot shark would be unbelievable) The only shark it could have been was a great white, and that's what they called it.

In any case; the great white disappeared and after a morning of snapper fishing they ate lunch, the two makos about 100 to 150 feet apart. While eating lunch, the bow of one mako reared up and started to shake. Bob was at the center console and held on, catching his buddy who was sliding aft. In a moment they got collected enough to look around, and were staring at the head of a giant white shark, which had the entire rear of the mako and the two 55 Johnson motors in its mouth. The guide had his hand on the shark's nose to keep from sliding aft. As they watched, the guide pushed off from the nose, grabbed the console and with one hand turned on one engine and then the other, which both fired right up, and he threw them in gear.

Great clouds of meat, cartilage, teeth and blood shot all over the men, the boat, and the water. The boat surged up and forward. It stopped almost immediately with one engine mangled badly and the other still partly operable.

When the fishermen and guide got some of the blood and meat off them and could see again, they looked for the shark and found it sinking slowly, while quivering, through the deep blue, very clear water. Blood was all over, coloring the water.

They limped back to Club Pacifico with one of the most unbelievable tales I've ever heard. I believe one of the participants still has one of the teeth. If I can ever get it, I'll photograph it and print a full-size picture for anyone interested.

Copyright © Ray McAllister 1996

[ Back to Shark Mania]