Whoosh! Issue 34 - July 1999

IAXS project #631
By Virginia Carper
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
5369 words

Introduction (01-03)
The Shark Nation (04)
     Interview With A Shark (05-21)
     Meet Brucius' Nation: The Mediterranean Sharks (22-33)
     Friends Of Brucius: The Batoidei (Rays And Skates) (34-37)
Dances With Sharks (38-40)
     As Told By the Ancient Greeks (38)
     Aristotle and the Sharls (39-40)
Jaws: Fiction And Reality (41-42)
     Fisting For Sharks (43-44)
     Shark Attack! (Not!) (45-49)
Close Encounters Of The Shark Kind (50-53)
     The Shark Nation Watches (54-57)
Disclaimer (58)
Appendix: Shark Conservation (59-62)
     Shark Finning (63-64)

Sharks in the XenaVerse

Heeeeere fishy, fishy, fishy!

A whale shark, with human nearby to show relative size.


[1] This article is the result of an e-mail exchange with Editor-In-Chief Kym Taborn about the sharks of Shark Island. As a naturalist, I wondered what species of shark they were [Note 01].

[2] "Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. . . . And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."
  -- Henry Beston, Naturalist [Note 02]

[3] Among the nations of the Xenaverse is the Shark Nation. This nation has its own rulers, lines of succession, rites of caste, and laws. Like the Amazons, little is known about the Sharks. People enter this nation's watery boundaries at risk. Sometimes the sharks will ignore them, and at other times the sharks will greet visitors with open jaws.

The Shark Nation

Interview With The Shark

[04] If the ordinary shark is the Lord of the Seas, then the great white is the King of the Oceans. Meet the King of the Sharks -- Brucius, the Great White, (Carcharodon carcharias) [Note 03].

[5] Author: Tell me, why didn't you eat Autolycus when he went deep sea diving for the Pax statue? [VANISHING ACT (66/320)]

[6] Brucius: Auto who?

[7] Author: The King of Thieves, Autocyclus, human (Homo sapiens).

[8] Brucius: I thought that was the tiger [shark]. Ever see a tiger eat a fish off a boat? They eat anything including the kitchen sink. Why must you constantly think that we sharks regard you humans as the tastiest link in the food chain? Personally, I prefer whales and fish. Besides, I wasn't hungry when I swam by. Or do you think we great whites are nothing but eating machines? That title goes to the blues.

[9] (Author: Note to reader: See the next section for common names of sharks and their taxonomic equivalent.)

[10] Author: What do you think of Xena?

[11] Brucius: Warrior Sharkness?

[12] Author: What?

[13] Brucius: With all those super shark senses, she has to be part shark. Are you sure that her real father wasn't an ancient shark god from somewhere?

[14] Author: Shark senses?

[15] Brucius: We've got seven of them. Our best known one is our keen sense of smell. Why, I can smell blood a fourth of a mile (0.4 km) away. Xena and her friends couldn't get far without me knowing. Then there is our ampullae of Lorenzini.

[16] Author: What's that?

[17] Brucius: We have ducts on our heads that lead to a membranous sac called an ampulla. We call these sacs the ampullae of Lorenzini. They help us to detect electricity like a beating heart of a frightened fish hiding in the mud. Then there is our lateralis system. Our lateral line runs along our bodies. With it, we can detect the intensity and direction of water vibrations like a floundering Joxer or a seal in trouble.

[18] Author: In trouble from you. That's three. What are the other four?

[19] Brucius: Hearing. We use sound to locate food. Sight. We can see moving objects in the dark. Our sensory pits on our backs and lower jaws detect water currents. Our taste buds determine whether we will eat you or not. Then there's touch. Like I said, Xena's part shark. Just guess which part...

[20] Author: Hey, that's eight!

[21] Brucius: Yeah, right. Sense you later.

Meet Brucius' Nation: the Mediterranean Sharks [Note 04]

[22] Angel Shark (Squatina squatina): A gaudy, flat-bodied shark, the angel seems to be the link between the sharks (Selachii) and the rays (Batoidei). The angel's body resembles a winged angel wearing robes. If an ancient Greek woman wanted to have small breasts, she would apply the flesh of an angel to her chest.

[23] Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus): This large, stout shark is often mistaken for the Great White shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Since many people fear the great white, they are likely to panic when they sight a Basking idly swimming near beaches or along rocky coasts. The Basking is relatively harmless, however, for it feeds only on plankton.

[24] Blue Shark (Prionace glauca): Found throughout the Mediterranean Sea, this highly nomadic pelagic shark makes night incursions at islands [Note 05]. Gracefully, the Blue cruises the seas in search of mackerel, seals, squid, and tuna. According to nautical lore, a Blue will appear at the stern of a ship when a sailor dies, waiting to feast on the body.

[25] Common Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna zygaena): With its paddlehead, this strange looking shark actively patrols the coasts. A fast and lively shark, the Hammerhead can be found swimming in small bays, estuaries, and near tidal flats. Joxer could sight one chasing Stingrays (Dasyatidae), its favorite meal. The Roman poet, Oppian wrote of the Hmmerhead:

"The monstrous Balance-Fish of hideous Shape
Rounds jetting Lands, and doubles every Cape."

How new studio executives are recruited

A Great White shark.

[26] Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias): The largest and most dangerous of the predatory sharks, the Great White prefers the open seas to shallow reefs. A little known and rarely seen animal, the Great White has become the greatly feared fish of mythic proportions. Greek philosophers, Herodotus and Aristotle, called this fish, "the Lamia monster" (the sea monster of Greek legend [Note 06]). Contrary to popular belief, the Great White does not go out of its way to hunt and kill humans. However, a Great White will attack Xena if she punches it in the nose.

[27] Megalodon (Carcharodon megalodon): This eighty foot (twenty-five meters) long prehistoric shark was a close relative of the Great White (Carcharodon carcharias). In the late 1800's, "fresh" teeth of this shark were dredged up from the ocean bottom causing some scientists to speculate that this monster shark only went extinct recently. Perhaps in the days of Xena, this shark still beset humans. In any case, Salmoneus probably sold human-hand sized teeth of these sharks as souvenirs from Hercules' exploits.

[28] Sand Shark (Odontaspis [Carcharias] taurus) A.K.A. Sand Tiger: A large stocky shark, the Sand Tiger is found at reef bottoms near the shore. This shark has a Jekyll-Hyde reputation. Because of its large snaggle teeth, the Sand Tiger looks ferocious, but it is a slow swimmer. However, former New York City Aquarium director, Christopher Coates remarked that these sharks, "can bite like hell and we don't trust them."

[29] Sandbar Shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus [milberti]): Large pods of Sandbars are found near islands or in shallow waters with sandy flats. They eat small prey such as crabs, flounders, and squid. The more benign Sandbar has been often confused with the Great White (Carcharodon carcharias). Smaller and stockier than the Great White, the Sandbar has a high first dorsal fin similar to the great whites.

[30] Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus): This streamlined missile-shaped shark is a fearsome predator. Of all the sharks, the Mako swims the fastest and leaps the highest. Found far from land, this swift shark preys on other sharks, tunas, and sea turtles. Extremely aggressive, the Mako will charge boats. This shark is also known to attack the Broadbill Swordfish (Xiphias gladius), which is usually left undisturbed by other predators because of its serrated bill.

[31] Six-Gilled Shark (Hexanchus griseus) A.K.A. Bluntnose, Mud Shark: This long shark is abundant in the Mediterranean Sea. Although a predatory species, this deep water shark does not usually encounter humans. Also, this primitive species (the Six-gilled) closely resembles its Jurassic ancestors. In addition to its six gills, the Mud Shark has a "third eye", a transparent window on its head to detect light.

[32] Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus): With its large scythe of a tail, the Thresher will slam down on a bird, killing it instantly. The Thresher's remarkable tail is as long as its body. The ancient Greeks of Rhodes taunted their proud Athenian brethren by boasting that none of their fish could compare in taste with the Rhodes fish supreme - the Thresher Shark.

[33] Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvieri): "The shark flies the feather". This sailor's proverb is founded on the observation that a Tiger will swallow anything that drops from a ship into the sea (cordage, cloth, pitch, wood, knives), but it will never eat a pilot-fish or a bird. A Tiger probably swallowed Crassus' ring [WHEN IN ROME... (62/316)]. Contrary to marine lore, seagulls have been found in the stomachs of Tigers. One of the most dangerous sharks in the sea, Tigers are known for their voraciousness, ruthlessness, and cannibalism. For fear of being eaten, smaller Tigers will give a wide berth to the larger ones.

Friends of Brucius: The Batoidei (Rays and Skates)

Resents being called an 'in-line' fish

A common skate.

[34] Skate (Raja batis): With their flat, disklike bodies, Skates are suited for life at the sea bottom. In their quiet, innocuous way, Skates have been responsible for most of the nonsense about strange sea creatures. Found on beaches, their egg cases have been called "mermaids' purses". Meanwhile, sailors twisted dried skates into weird shapes to sell as curios. As part of his wares, Salmoneus probably has his exclusive line of "Lemias" for sale. But if he fails to sell any of his Skates as curios, then Salmoneus could resort to selling their livers as an earache remedy.

[35] Stingray (Dasyatis centroura [pastinaca]): Pliny, the Roman naturalist, wrote in his Naturalis Historia, "There is nothing that is more to be dreaded than the sting which protrudes from the tail of the Trygon [stingray]... a weapon five inches in length... it can pierce armor... and to the strength of iron it adds the venom of poison". Stingrays, in Xena's day, were obviously fearsome opponents. The stinger of the average Stingray is hard, stiletto-shaped, and fringed with tiny barbs. However, more importantly for Gabrielle, the liver of the Stingray cures scrofula, relieves itching, and clears up various skin diseases.

[36] Torpedo (Torpedo nobiliana) A.K.A. Electric Ray: Partially buried in the sand, the Torpedo waits to sting its prey. The size of a person, the Electric Ray could kill anyone who touches it. Because of the Ray's strong voltage, the ancient Greeks believed that the Ray bewitched anyone who saw it.

[37] Probably while he was held prisoner aboard Xena's pirate ship [DESTINY (36/22)], Julius Caesar made shark clasper soup for her. [Note 07]. Since the Romans regarded the claspers of a male shark to be a powerful aphrodisiac, Caesar wanted to keep Xena enthralled with him [Note 08]. Because Xena was a Greek, she could not have known that the liver of a Torpedo Ray would counteract his aphrodisiac.

Dances With Sharks

"Sharks are perhaps the least known and most misunderstood of all the large creatures on earth. They have an almost insurmountable reputation for mindless ferocity, but it is one based largely on myth and fantasy."
  -- Richard Ellis, noted marine life painter [Note 09]

As Told by the Ancient Greeks

[38] Although, they did not worship sharks, the Greeks believed that sharks were a source of magical powers. In his writings, Aeschines told the story about Apollo, the god of Music, who punished several politicians who had ignored him. While they were bathing in the sea, Apollo sent a shark to eat them. The Greek poet, Leonidas of Tarentum described the death of Tharsys, a sponge diver who was half-eaten by a shark. According to Leonidas, Tharsys was buried "both on land and in the sea". In his Histories, Herodotus related how the sharks defeated a Persian war fleet. A violent gale struck the fleet, and drove many ships ashore at Athos in northeastern Greece. After the rocks "dashed the ships to pieces", the sharks "seized and devoured" the Persians.

Aristotle and the Sharks

[39] Like Xena, Aristotle was from Macedonia. Like Xena, Aristotle's courage changed the world. Unlike his fellow philosophers, Aristotle believed that the world could be understood at a fundamental level through the detailed observation and cataloging of phenomenon. For Aristotle, knowledge existed on a continuum. At one end were things which were true all the time (mathematics). Moving further along the continuum were things which have a number of causes and that were true (biology). Finally, at the other end, were things which were only opinion (politics). Aristotle's concepts formed the backbone of Western ideas on knowledge. In her practical approach to life, Xena demonstrated Aristotle's wisdom.

Not to be confused with Ray Jay Johnson

A Manta Ray.

[40] One area of study that Aristotle delved into deeply was the natural world. In his History Of Animals [Note 10], Aristotle recorded the first scientific study of sharks and their relatives (rays and skates). He grouped them together as one family since they have cartilage instead of bones. His study of sharks provided the basis for today's knowledge of them. For example, he observed that many sharks give birth to live young. However, Aristotle was also responsible for many myths about sharks. For instance, he thought that sharks had their mouths under their heads.

Jaws: Fiction And Reality

[41] Based on Peter Benchley's novel Jaws (1974), the movie Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg) portrayed a Great White shark (Carcharodon carcharias) terrorizing a coastal New England town. To avenge her murdered mate, another Great White shark terrorized the town in the sequel Jaws 2 (1978, Jeannot Szwarc). The final movie, Jaws: The Revenge (1987, Joseph Sargent) advertized the cross-species feud as "This Time It's Personal!" A relative of the two murdered Great Whites decided to get revenge by killing the remainder of the Brody family, who were responsible for their deaths. Meanwhile, Jaws 3-D (1983, Joseph Alves) featured a cousin of the Great Whites, who unnerves the employees of Sea World in Florida [Note 11] when she tries to get her captured baby back.

[42] Peter Benchley's novel Jaws and later the Jaws series of movies frightened many people into believing that Great White sharks lurk at every beach waiting for tasty human flesh. Mr. Benchley's novel was based on the 1916 shark attacks at Beach Haven, New Jersey. While swimming in nearby Matawan Creek, several people were killed. American citizens being eaten by a shark so shocked President Woodrow Wilson that he immediately ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to blow up the murderous shark of New Jersey. Although a few weeks later, a Great White was found with human remains in its stomach, many shark experts believe that the rogue shark was a Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas), a fresh water species responsible for many shark attacks worldwide.

Fisting for Sharks

[43] Since Xena: Warrior Princess has many episodes based on movie plots, why not one based on Jaws? A shark menaces a village, and the panicky villagers demand that the shark die. Xena and Gabrielle discover that the "murder by shark" was actually a killer dumping the body of one of the villagers into the sea. Xena and Gabrielle defend the shark from the angry mob until Gabrielle uncovers who really killed the unfortunate villager.

[44] Another plot could be Xena fishing in a river using her "fish fisting" technique. She accidentally punches a bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) in the nose. Since the bull is rarely found in the Mediterranean, Xena would not expect to encounter a fresh water shark. Or she could be fishing along the Ganges River in India and meets up with the dreaded Ganges shark (Carcharhinus leucas) [Note12].

Shark Attack! (Not!)

[45] According to statistics collected worldwide by the International Shark Attack File (ISAF, [Note 13]), attacks on people by sharks are rare. The Mediterranean Shark Attack File (MEDSAF, [Note 14]) list only forty-one unprovoked attacks on people since 1899. This is less than one attack every other year.

[46] Compare these statistics collected by ISAF with those collected by the New York City Health Department. How frequent are shark attacks compared to rabbit attacks? In 1981, thirty-seven people in New York were bitten by rabbits (Leporidae oryctolagus cuniculus) compared to twelve people bitten by sharks in the United States. The odds of Gabrielle being bit by sharks are less than being attacked by another saber tooth bunny (L. oryctolagus bunnicula [sabertoothus], 1998, Taborn [Note 15]).

[47] Perhaps comparing alligator (Alligator mississipiensis) attacks with shark attacks in Florida would make more sense. "The Herpetological Review" reports that, from 1948 to 1992, 218 people were attacked by alligators. For the same period, ISAF records 276 shark attacks. The chances of being attacked by a shark in Florida are slightly more than being attacked by an alligator.

[48] How about comparing the number of people struck by lightning to the number of people attacked by sharks in California? Like Florida, California has large numbers of sharks and swimmers. From 1959 to 1990, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, sixty-nine people were struck by lightning compared to fifty-nine people attacked by sharks in California (ISAF files).

[49] What do all these statistics have to do with the price of eggs in Athens? After Australia and South Africa, the ISAF ranks the United States (including Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. territories) the third highest in shark attacks in the world. So statistically speaking (according to ISAF), it is safe to go back into the water.

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