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September 5, 2006

New Predator in Town

With my triathlon less than one week away, it’s time to cool the jets and taper down a bit before race day.

Since I’m not doing much in the way of actual training, you’d think I’d have more time for blogging – but I’m trying to resist the urge to go that route. I think I’ve finally hit a happy medium where “more free time” doesn’t automatically translate into “spend an insane number of hours blogging.” And hey, it only took me 10 months – a relative blink of an eye compared to other lessons I’ve learned.

Anyway, I’ve got a triathlon preview on tap for Thursday. Until then, here’s one more (generally unrelated) post to share for the week…

Today’s post centers on a noteworthy new denizen of the Monterey Peninsula. He’s 5-foot-8, 104 pounds, and happens to be one hell of a swimmer. Unfortunately, he would make a terrible training partner, on account of his troublesome predilection for chewing your arms or legs off.

That’s because he’s a great white shark.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a working arrangement with several commercial fishing companies, such that they are alerted whenever a young great white is inadvertently ensnared in fishing lines. If the shark can then thrive in a 4-million gallon containment pen in the open ocean, the Aquarium uses a life support transport vehicle to bring the shark to its Outer Bay exhibit showcasing pelagic fish.

It’s all done very responsibly. Marine biologists and Aquarium shark experts monitor the operation, and if the shark demonstrates any signs of stress or failure to thrive, they tag and release it immediately. Meanwhile, they study the great white closely; for obvious reasons, it’s one of the lesser-studied species among all animals. Keeping a great white in captivity, however briefly, also gives them a platform to educate the public about how threatened this powerful animal has become.

They’ve been successful once before. From September 2004 to March 2005, a baby female great white resided at our Aquarium for 198 days. She coexisted with her tankmates reasonably well before her hunting instincts developed. Then suddenly, over the span of two weeks, two soupfin sharks turned up dead, and the great white was released to the ocean three days later.

So it’s understood that the current address for this new shark is quite temporary. He’ll be released at the first sign of poor health or aggression. (On that note, here’s a quote from Saturday’s Monterey Herald attributed to an Aquarium veterinarian, describing when the white shark first entered the tank: “A hammerhead shark swimming in the opposite direction approached it, then turned around and split. It was remarkable how fast it went.” Um … hello? What did you expect? That same hammerhead was probably in the tank when the soupfins died last year.)

Knowing that their window of opportunity is limited, many locals will be flocking to see the shark over the next few weeks. My kids and I will be there, too. The great white is an awesome creature, and not many elementary school kids get the chance to see one up close.

Plus, after my recent ocean swims and the feedback regarding them, I have a secondary motive for observing the shark.

I’m thinking I might do some scientific investigation on behalf of triathletes out there. Remember how several people suggested that my bright yellow swim cap might attract sharks in the open water? Now’s my chance to put that theory to the test.

Maybe I’ll smuggle my cap into the Aquarium, put it on my head in front of the Outer Bay exhibit, and run laps back and forth in front of the tank – circling my arms in a mock swimming motion, of course - to see if I get any response. Would that be considered research? Can I apply for federal grant money?

After all, I might need some help to interpret my findings. I mean, sure - if the shark charges the glass, that’s an obvious cause-and-effect outcome. But would I have to repeat the process without a cap to establish a null hypothesis? Do I have to duplicate the experiment in a pink cap to compare the responses? How many other colors would I have to test and exclude?

And what if he ignores me? Is it because I’m not in his normal field of vision (the tank is above ground level, so the shark would be above me)? Or does it mean my starting premise is flawed? Does the shark have an awareness of his surroundings, and realize that he can’t reach me outside the tank? Or does he recognize that I’m simply an idiot, and not worth an extra second of his time? From a scientific standpoint, all of these conclusions appear equally valid.

Now that I think of it, there’s a reason I didn’t pursue a field in research after grad school. It’s a completely obsessive, often confusing, frequently frustrating, overwhelmingly time-consuming discipline that requires complete dedication to see small gains. And I’ve already got one of those.

I think I’ll just to stick to being a runner. But you can bet I'm still going to visit this shark.


stronger 9/5/06, 11:08 AM  

Can you set up a video camera and post the video?

Anne 9/5/06, 3:48 PM  

In light of what happened to Steve Irwin, let's add stingrays to that list of predators to watch out for during your open-water swims. They may be partial to pink caps.

And thanks for your offline advice earlier. Looks like my hip is healed. And after only 12 weeks.

robtherunner 9/5/06, 4:56 PM  

I thought you were going to be a true dedicated researcher and jump in the tank with the cap on to see what kind of a response occurs. I am glad to see you are much, well at least a bit smarter than that.

matt 9/5/06, 4:56 PM  

maybe this one belongs to the "Fish are our friends, Not Food" camp.

Annette 9/5/06, 5:53 PM  

I can always count on your posts for some quality entertainment. :)

Enjoy your shark visit and good luck on the upcoming tri!

Downhillnut 9/5/06, 5:57 PM  

Hey, go see it for me, too! Sharks are very fascinating creatures - from this side of the glass, that is. Glad you're not thinking of jumping in to test the theory first-hand.

backofpack 9/5/06, 6:48 PM  

I'd be a little less worried about what the shark would think, and a little more worried about what bystanders would think. You might find yourself in a cage of your own, begging your wife to explain to the authorities that you really are not nuts, you were just testing a theory. We'd all vouch for you of course - that is if they'll let you blog from the big house!

teacherwoman 9/5/06, 7:31 PM  

Sharks intrigue me....kind of like tornadoes! Scared to death of both, but oddly enough I am still intrigued!

Thanks for the music selection help! I have been busy downloading! Much appreciated!

Sue 9/5/06, 10:21 PM  

LOL - you crack me up - just imagining you "swimming" in front of the shark's tank - with fellow spectators gawping!

Good luck on the triathalon!

Thomas 9/6/06, 2:28 AM  

Hey, he might have the edge over you on the swimming part, but I bet you'd be miles better on the bike and running sections. That is, if you still have some legs left.

Susan 9/6/06, 11:24 AM  

good luck with your tri . . . sharks? another reason not to swim . . . running is good.

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