Saturday, August 2, 2014

Thresher Sharks in Southern California!

Don't get me wrong, it's been a lovely summer here in Southern California.

At first I was ecstatic to be back in the land of tourists, surf competitions, and relentless sunshine, where traffic runs like clockwork and if it dips below 70F we all put on jackets as we go out for our evening yoga or zumba class. When I returned home I took up my previous jobs, working for CA Department of Fish and Wildlife (yay CRFS!), sampling fish, riding boats and occasionally saving animals and holding up fishing regulations (Politely, of course, by spreading information and asking them to voluntarily comply ... Sometimes thats all you need!). But life became a little predictable, and ok I'll say it, boring, without sub-polar storms, killer whales, or commuting by helicopter.

The good thing about field science is that it always has a way of coming out of left field with all manners of surprises, from a sticky, color changing, water squirting beast, or a couple hundred playful dolphins, to even a giant shark.
And I realized, just because I'm no longer in the Bering Sea doesn't mean I don't still see amazing things! Even in the middle of urban SoCal there are still events that turn my head and boggle my mind. So I'm keeping the blog and we're pressing onward with the field science adventures!!

Last week I had one of those days, I was in Newport Beach but my mind was elsewhere, worrying about family birthdays, planning workouts, friends moving, all sorts of things that were not fish. I was sitting in my car waiting for kayakers to come in at the Newport Fishing Float (not the most exciting of assignments, I always bring a good novel) when I looked up from my book and suddenly there was a MASSIVE thresher shark laying on the sidewalk about 20 feet in front of my car.
... Just so you know, I'm a biologist, I do fish for a living and I was sitting, WAITING for fish to show up, yet this fish couldn't have surprised me more, I can't fathom to imagine what all of the swimmers and beach-going tourists thought at the moment.

In case you're unfamiliar, thresher sharks are more or less your typical shark, grey on top white bottom, pointed nose and a tall dorsal fin. This one was about 10 ft long nose to tail and well over 100 lbs. Their defining characteristic is the very long top lobe of their tail which can extend as long as the rest of the body combined! They look like this!

Ok time to go to work! Who's fish is this anyways? I thought. As I gathered my board and measuring tape a crowd of apprehensive, fearful and some even angry passersby was gathering. I attempted to walk up to the shark but finding the crowd I switched gears quickly and became public informant #1!

"What is it?"
"Is it safe to swim?"
"Can they kill that? I don't think thats legal, they're endangered."
"Are you here to confiscate it?"
"Are you here to measure it for a record?"

Questions rained down upon me as I approached the fish and I did my best to answer them.
FYI: Its a thresher shark.
Yes its still safe to swim, firstly cause it was caught miles offshore and two because threshers are fearful of humans and never bite large mammals.
 Yes people go out for thresher all the time, its totally legal to catch up to two per day (no size limit), and the species is actually doing quite well since the commercial fishery for them shut down about 20 years ago.
No I'm not going to confiscate this 150lb shark, in my little honda civic, by myself.
I doubt very much that this 10ft thresher is a record of any kind, but I will measure it! (Turns out the record is 20ft and 1,000lbs!!)

I did a little shark spiel for all the kids in the area. Let them see its teeth, touch its skin, and explained that its large tail is used to whip and stun fish so that they can eat them as well as to swim and jump out of the water when it wants to.

No really, its totally a thing that happens! 

FINALLY I found the angler that caught the fish. He said he had a "hell of a time!" He caught it a couple miles offshore in his KAYAK, yes a kayak for a 10ft, 150lb shark! It drug him south a couple miles when he hooked up and it took him three hours to bring it in, plus another two to get back to shore. On the way in, they strapped it to the top of the kayak and it actually sank the kayak, so all the time paddling the kayak was slowly taking on water. They had to drain the kayak when they showed up which is why I couldn't find the angler when the fish arrived! Totally Old Man And The Sea status. He seemed very pleased with his catch and told me he was going home to fillet it and then BBQ thresher steaks. ... I was a little jealous, but I did get a good picture beforehand.

More information on thresher sharks can be found from CADFW here and here, and thresher shark regulation information for CA sportfishing can be found through the CADFW here!

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