Sharks ravages on Jersey coast puzzle scientists (1916)

Original publication: Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Penn.) Date: July 7, 1916
Categories: 1910s, Discoveries & inventions, Health & medicine, Summer
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sharks’ ravages on Jersey coast puzzle to science

Two fatalities at shore rouse speculation as to cause

Fish offal is blamed

Presence of sharks on coast of New Jersey accounted for

1. Menhaden fishers dump food fish taken in nets back into waters in vicinity of Delaware Breakwater.

2. Shifting course of Gulf Stream westward may have lured tropical and deep-sea fish further inshore and northward.

3. Scarcity of food fish supply in native waters compels foraging in more distant regions.

4. Firing of great guns in artillery action along other parts of coast forces fish to seek shelter of many bays and harbors of Jersey coast.

5. Submarine and other naval activities on European side of Atlantic drive sharks in greater number to western or American coasts.

6. Curtailment of ocean travel to and from American ports due to war conditions with consequent lessening of disturbance lures sharks further away from usual haunts.

Savants in this city, whether of natural history or geography and hydrography, are profoundly interested in the recent fatalities to bathers on the New Jersey coast through attacks by sharks.

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The sharks, whose man-eating proclivities cost the lives of Charles E Vansant, of this city at Beach Haven last Saturday, and Charles Bruder, a bellboy at Spring Lake yesterday, are believed to have been of the West Indian variety.

>> Why the man-eating sharks off Jersey coast? (1916)

Authorities on the subjects mentioned admit that at the present time they are without sufficient information to explain the appearance of the sea monsters so far inland and northward at a point remote from their usual habitat. Several theories advanced, however, find supporters and opponents.

It’s the fishermen

One of the chief reasons for the present appearance of sharks in the vicinity of Island Heights and other central bathing beaches of the Jersey coast is that the menhaden fishers are to blame. It is the custom of these fleets to gather in their great nets thousands of fish of all sorts in every cast.

>> Also see: How many shark attacks are there each year?

These are taken aboard the boats and food fishes, in accordance with the United States law forbidding their capture, are thrown overboard. This operation, in many cases, it is said, is not complied with until the boats are virtually in harbor at the Delaware Breakwater or the fertilizing plants at Lewes. The food fish, cast back into their native element, are consequently unusually numerous at the mouth of the Delaware Bay and in the Atlantic at places nearby, particularly the many little bays and inlets that mark the entire coast of New Jersey.

Appearance unusual

Whether man-eating sharks ever come to temperate waters is a question which has never been proved. Rewards have been offered by newspapers and scientific societies several times for information which would substantiate an authenticated instance, but even with this inducement no one has ever appeared with a case that would bear up under scrutiny.

The presence of sharks in New Jersey waters, in the opinion of many scientists, was due to the scarcity of food in their native waters. In their quest they probably ranged along the coast in the wake of the menhaden fishers and have been lurking about the entrance of the Delaware Bay or in the Atlantic nearby, feeding upon the food fish cast back into those waters.

>> Also see: The Jersey Shore of yore (1915)

This theory finds many supporters here, as revealed upon inquiry among persons who are versed in the habits of deep sea fish.

Another and more deeply scientific theory is that the frequent shiftings of the Gulf Stream, which sweeps the southern Atlantic coast, may have drawn the tropical sharks further northward with its varying currents.

Another reason

Still another theory finds advocates among persons who are familiar with sharks and their ways. The fish, though large and of carnivorous habits, is also somewhat lazy and generally seeks a home in quiet waters. The activities of submarine warfare and other naval disturbances on the European side of the ocean are held to have caused a possible exodus of the denizens of those regions to parts less agitated as places of abode. With the lessening of ocean and coastwise travel incident to the war, it is also contended, sharks would not venture out of their tropical homes in quiet harbors and inlet, are lured out into the main waters of the Atlantic, and lured by the warm current of the Gulf Stream follow its course much farther northward than when it forms the track of the large steamships.

Transatlantic travelers and sailors tell of hungry sharks following in the wake of larger passenger vessels in quest of food matter thrown overboard. This supply, it is pointed out, is also largely curtailed at this time; in fact, it has almost disappeared. The suggestion is made that deep sea sharks are venturing nearer shore in their hunt for food that formerly came to them in midocean.

The shark, naturalists declare, is voracious, but seldom has attacked a man except in desperate cases of hunger. It makes its chief diet upon the small marine organisms, and a few species are herbivorous in their habits.

When sharks bite

“Sharks belonging to the two really dangerous species, the white shark and the blue shark, are occasionally taken off our coasts, but so far as I am aware, there is no record of any fully-grown individual ever having been taken within hundreds of miles of New York. Cases of shark-bite do now and then occur, but there is a great difference between being attacked by a shark and being bitten by one, and the cases of shark-bite are usually found to have been due to some one incautiously approaching a shark impounded or tangled in a net or hasping on shore. And, under such circumstances, almost any creature will bite”

A few years ago Herman Oelrichs, through the New York Sun, offered $500 for an authenticated case of a man having been attacked by a shark in temperate waters. The lack of response indicated that virtually there is no danger from these fauna, according to R Lucas, who continues: “One of the commonest statements is that ‘the shark bit off the man’s leg as though it were a carrot,’ an assertion that shows the maker or writer of it had little idea the strength of the apparatus needed to perform such an amputation.

“Certainly no shark recorded as having been taken in these waters could possibly perform such an act, though this might occur if a shark, 80 feet or more in length, happened to catch a man fairly on the knee joint where no severing of the bone was necessary.”


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Source publication: Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Penn.)

Publication date: July 7, 1916


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