The Fish Story

When Great Whites Become Terrified Wimps; Saving Trophy Stripers for the Wrong Reasons

By JAY MANN | Jul 03, 2019
Photo by: Supplied It was a seaside madhouse on these Beach Haven sands over the weekend as a huge crowd pressed in to watch young angler Aiden Hunsberger (with white cap) pull in a 250-pound sand tiger shark. The 6-foot fish was quickly released – as over 150 onlookers returned to their blankets.

Surf City — When it comes to oceanic alphas, great white sharks are seemingly the alpha-est of them all. Not quite. These swimming jaws of doom routinely become haul-ass wimps. It might be seen as karmic payback, when the almighty whites become cowardly lions upon getting even a whiff of orcas, aka killer whales. In reality, they’re terrified by dolphins since orcas are technically giant dolphin, though still members of the whale family on the toothed-whale side of things.

Recent research shows that suddenly not-so-great whites tuck their tails between their legs, figuratively, and flee from orcas like batfish out of hell, even far-off orcas. They’ll often bolt for hundreds of miles, forsaking the juiciest feeding grounds for weeks after being driven away in terror.

Orcas, on the other foot, love lily-livered white sharks, literally. They routinely rip open the undersides of even the most massive of these cartilaginous fish … and then eat their livers, to the exclusion of all other internal parts. Admittedly, a great white’s liver comprises one-third of the fish’s internal organ regime, and is nutritious as all get-out to boot. Not long ago, researchers in Africa recorded at least five great white carcasses washed up after orcas passed by a Gansbaai beach. All the DOAs were liverless. In the big biosphere picture, that’s a huge hit to the species, especially considering how many eviscerated great whites likely never washed ashore.

When on the shark attack, orcas combine brains and brawn, easily trumping a great white’s single-minded burliness. During shark kills, the jumbo dolphin roundaboutly turn to science by using an insightful kill tactic. They’ll flip a hapless target over on its back, leading to its going into a tantric state of mind, similar to its being hypnotized. It’s what brighter orcas could call tonic immobility. Once a shark is on its back and goes into a trance, the orcas then have their way with the disabled fish, often mutilating it – sometimes just for kicks, not even eating the liver of the victim.

Nutrition aside, this oddish liver eating has a feel far beyond mere dining penchants. There are indications that orcas simply don’t like sharks, most recently great whites. Lopsided orcas versus white shark confrontations have increased dramatically around the world. It could be competition for prey … or revenge for some smack that sharks talk about orcas when they’re not around.

The main reason killer whales so easily dominate even the most bad-ass sharks is their pack-attack behavior. Most sharks, especially whites, are extreme loners, though a whole sharkload of them can gather in prime dining locales, as is the case in South Africa and California. Even when gathered, the sharks don’t team up. As stand-alones, they don’t have a prayer against a squad of 4-inch-toothed, highly orchestrated orcas, thus their resorting to full-fledged flight to find distant orca-less waters.

As to possible other reasons orcas target whites, this telltale subsurface conversation among orcas was recorded in waters off Santa Barbara.

“Hey, look, there’s a great white. Let’s go get him for what he did to poor Captain Ahab!”

“I keep telling you that was a great white whale not a great white shark.”

“That’s close enough. Let’s teach him a lesson!”

Like humans, whales vary in their degrees of intelligence.

On that note, ponder if you will the amazing shark deterrent/repellent potential of Mann’s Orca Pre-Swim Oil Treatment. I think I’m vaguely serious here, though it’s hard for me to tell since I maintain the same facial expression when explaining the concept to myself.

I have no doubt that even a couple drops of eau de orca, rubbed on before an ocean bathing session, would be more than enough to totally terrify every shark within sniffing distance. Keep in mind that sharks can smell a drop of any substance from football fields away. Imagine how far they can detect it if not on football fields.

Now my task is to gather orca essence. Admittedly, it’ll be a chore getting past laws against so much as annoying whales. Maybe I’ll dip into the habitat of “educational” orcas, kept in captivity for touristy amusement. I'll distill the water from orca show swimming pools, refining it into concentrated essence drips. It could be added into a lotion and applied pre-ocean swim. You laugh … then stop and say, “Come to think of it …”

BASSING BROUHAHA: The now-ending cow bass season, which is still looking large up New England way, led to an escalation of the debate over too many big-ass bass coming to the scales, i.e. being kept. This is a going-somewhere-fast controversy. Such cow-based keepage will likely be the essence of pending bassing regulation changes for 2020.

There is massive support for hyper protecting the biggest of bass, mainly for further recreational catching gratification. That aesthetic angling aspect makes sense to me. And the biggest of bass do seem to be fading fast. What I can’t abide by is the misapplied notion that the biggest bass spawn more biggest bass. I can scientifically refute that notion by saying that any and all spawning bass of any size can carry genes capable of fostering future trophy fish. It all comes down to baby bass living long enough to achieve their genetic legacy. Admittedly, young fish destined to achieve post 40-pound size likely grow faster from the get-go. I’m not sure where to go with that, short of finding the best way to let the genetically gifted fish grow to their hearts' content. There are absolutely no outward signs that a young bass is destined for greatness … of length and berth.

Mistakenly highlighted in this keeper debate is the enormous number of eggs produced by the biggest bass, thus the pressing need to keep them in the mix. While such a copious egg production is very real, the fertility/fecundity of those eggs is now highly suspect. That suspicion is based on documented ailments impacting the reproductive systems of older stripers that have been subjected to long-term absorption of harmful chemicals, called bioavailability, especially human hormone drugs flushed into the marine biosystem. There is rampant reproductive destructiveness from such pollution. Doubling the damage, assorted types of water pollution are hitting spawning waters, leading to chemical imbalances capable of ruining reproduction. We can conserve all the bass in the world, but if their spawns go chemically sour there’s no gains to be had regardless of regulation tweaks.

My thinking is sound: By concentrating bass-preserving efforts on cleaning crapped-up spawning waters, we get to the core of true conservation – for the entire ecosystem. It takes very few bass to produce massive egg and sperm counts. In the long haul, it all comes down to zygote survival. Of note, there are emerging studies that indicate small- to medium-sized bass might be the healthiest contributors to successful spawns.

Despite the alleged population problems in the bass realm, as a species, Morone saxatilis is plenty plentiful – easily populous enough to prosper heartily in a healthy, balanced ecosystem … for decades to come. What’s more, the species is not being overfished in the traditional sense, though it is being harvested in a highly top-heavy manner. Closer to what’s behind the squawk about striper stocks is the fact that many anglers want an awe-inspiring presence of big bass. Hey, it’s good to be one of mankind’s more favored species.

That said, (soon) being forced to release trophy bass will keep those biggies in the system for rehooking, and further releasing. You can forget that utterly nonsensical 50 percent mortality rate of released bass. I place the C&R striped bass mortality at under 10 percent. Time and further studying will prove that out.

If we get into mandatorily releasing all larger bass, it won’t be long before we mimic the largemouth bass fishing realm, where the same Bubbas are pulled out with regularity. Sure, why not? Just don’t think for a minute that Bubba mothering via regulations will be a cure for screwed-up spawns. It will mainly be a short-term fix for the woes currently bugging anglers obsessed with trophy fish.

RUNDOWN: I’ve gotten a slew of reports about large sharks being caught right near the beach, extending out a few hundred yards, as a kayak shark-seeking angler found out the large way.

To have them show so thickly during the days speaks of their great numbers and, likely, great forage, though I sure haven’t seen an inordinate amount of baitfish. Regardless, something has the cartilaginous ones foraging quite close to the beach, literally swimming amid swimmers – unknowing swimmers.

Anyone wanting to see sharks plying the waters below, simply pick a clear-water day and don a mask. Swim about a bit. Prepare to be spooked. One of the sand tiger sharks surf-caught over the weekend was pushing 250 pounds (see photos). There are also tons of brown (sandbar) sharks both day and night, though after dark is far better fishing. Rapid release is required.

I’d like to rave about fluking for the sake of a huge flattie-fishing segment down for this holiday week. I just can’t. Sure, there are many Facebook photos showing ultrafine catches. But, the all-telling ratio of keepers to throwbacks is heavily toward the release side of things. Grumbling over low takes of take-homes has been ringing out amid radio chatter. Even charters are moaning a bit, though they really have to maintain an optimistic outlook at all times. Customers love that.

As a special treat for surfcasters, some of the best kingfishing in recent and distant memory is now upon us, mainly in the surf, though also in the bay. Once geared with light equipment, fresh or artificial bait and a dedicated kingfish rig, a dozen kingies are possible per fishing session. They are running medium size, which still offers some nice fillets. I cook them in the round to maximize the meat take. For the umpteenth time: These are among the best tasting fish of any sort, anywhere.

By the by, the racks or heads of kingfish are a killer shark bait. In fact, now that I think about it, I wonder if the kingfish showing is what has drawn in the sharks. They, too, might consider kingfish marvelous eating.

Almost up to the kingfish showing is the bayside blowfish presence. While I highly encourage allowing the puffers to first spawn (throughout this month), dozens can be taken from within chumlines issuing chopped clams, mussels or even canned cat food. The heads and racks of blowfish have little recycling usage. Sharks won’t touch them. The most I’ve seen go after dumped blowfish innards in the bay are spearing and blueclaw crabs.

I’m trying to get a photo of a woulda-been record-breaking 10-pound smooth back pufferfish/blowfish taken in Manahawkin Bay by Dr. Bob Hervert. The world record for the smooth puffer is 11 pounds, seven ounces. The N.J. record is 9-10. Unfortunately, no effort was made to register Bob's fish.

The hefty puffer put up a decent fight on lighter fluke gear. It then became a case of IDing the rather ugly brute. Some book learnin’ proved it was the oft-called “southern puffer,” more exacting the smooth-back gulf pufferfish.

The exotic species, even in the South, has become a somewhat regular Barnegat Bay visitor over the last few summers. Upward of a dozen have shown up in state tackle shops, most of them are bay-caught. It’s highly likely this species is on the rapid increase hereabouts. Down south, the smooth-backs are also increasing. A couple areas of the Gulf are dubbing their sudden showing as an “invasion.”

Then there is the death-by-sashimi species of Asian hara-kiri legend. If not perfectly cleaned, the fish’s tetrodotoxin toxin, the most powerful neurotoxins found anywhere in the world, can leach into the raw fish presentation and doom the consumer to a dismal end … almost before the check even arrives. If emergency treatments aren’t tried within 60 minutes, it’s sayonara, baby. The inadequate chef is bound by tradition to de-gut himself, as a busboy lops off his head. It makes for an interesting change of ambiance for other diners.

Are our southern puffers deadly toxic? Nope. But who’s going to test them? El nobody, that’s who. Nonetheless, there are several YouTube videos on how to clean and cook American smoothies.

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