The Old Man and the Sharks

Mouth of a mako shark

I've recently re-read Earnest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Among its many other virtues, the book does a great job of describing its wildlife. Here's Hemingway's description of a mako shark:

He was a very big Mako shark, built to swim as fast as the fastest fish in the sea and everything about him was beautiful except his jaws. His back was as blue as a sword fish's and his belly was silver and his hide was smooth and handsome. He was built as a sword fish except for his huge jaws which were tight shut now as he swam fast, just under the surface with his high dorsal fin knifing through the water without wavering. Inside the closed double lip of his jaws all of his eight rows of teeth were slanted inwards. They were not the ordinary pyramid-shaped teeth of most sharks. They were shaped like a man's fingers when they are crisped like claws. They were nearly as long as the fingers of the old man and they had razor-sharp cutting edges on both sides. This was a fish built to feed on all the fishes in the sea, that were so fast and strong and well armed that they had no other enemy.

Hemingway also intrigues me with what his character calls shovel-nosed sharks. That name has been applied to various species, including such dangerous ones as the bull shark and the dusky shark. But none of those quite fits Hemingway's description. Critic Susan F. Beegel points out that what does fit his description is the oceanic whitetip. This species, a member of the requiem family, is known to take victims of shipwrecks. It's also one of the species involved in the recent Red Sea attacks. In Deadly Kingdom, I mentioned a diver who was fatally mauled by a pair of whitetips.

He could see their wide, flattened shovel-pointed heads now and their white-tipped wide pectoral fins. They were hateful sharks, bad smelling, scavengers as well as killers, and when they were hungry they would bite at an oar or the rudder of a boat. It was these sharks that would cut the turtles' legs and flippers off when the turtles were asleep on the surface, and they would hit a man in the water, if they were hungry, even if the man had no smell of fish blood nor of fish slime on him. 

An oceanic whitetip shark with his hangers-on

But the main nonhuman character in Hemingway's book is a huge marlin. Here's an earlier post featuring an amazing photo of a blue marlin



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