The Fish Story

When Local Wildlife Becomes Bloody Pain in the Neck; Classic Readies Special Launch

By JAY MANN | Oct 03, 2017

I gotta begin with an LBI, highly freakafied story that’ll stand your neck hairs a bit on end. It’s also one of those things that’ll stick with you far into the night, if not forever. Just don’t let it overly haunt you because it’s an occurrence rarer than striped bass teeth. For you non-anglers, stripers have no teeth.

Now, onward to a wildlife attack.

At first bite, it’s a tale one would expect to hear taking place in, say, the Dakota Badlands, or, better yet, the teeming jungles of Brazil. Nope. This attack took place in the sleepy little coastal village of Ship Bottom, where the most common nature-bites-man incidents occur while people are toying with blueclaw crabs.

Just last week, Brendan Sprouls, 35, was having a hard time sleeping. To calm his mind a bit, he stepped outside of the oceanfront home where he was staying. Sitting down, he idly stared into the dark comfort of an unseasonably mild and seemingly gentle night.

“I was just sitting there on the back porch minding my own business.” Little did he know that something sinister was also minding Brendan’s business.

Lighting up a cigarette, he caught sight of something in his peripheral vision – something moving toward him, low to the ground. He logically assumed it was just a neighborhood cat, maybe moving in for a neck rub. Well, he was right about the neck part.

Suddenly, with what he described as “amazing speed,” the form in the dark rushed him – bounding off the ground in a full-attack mode, going whole-hog toward the man’s upper torso.

Before he could fully register what was happening, Brendan was being nastily attacked … by an LBI raccoon!

“I didn’t know what happened … it bit me so fast,” he said.

The pain from the bite was slow in coming. “I had so much adrenaline going through me. I was angry,” adding, “It sure woke me up.”

This wasn’t just any raccoon attack, if there is such a thing. The charging beast literally went toward the man’s throat.

“I felt its paws by my throat. I didn’t know what was going on,” he recalled.

With little time to react, Brendan took the brunt of the raccoon’s bite to his underarm, in the bicep/triceps region. It wasn’t until he watched the raccoon run off that he fully registered what had just gone down.

He checked his bleeding wounds. “It was like fang marks,” he recalled.

If you’ve never seen the teeth of a raccoon – and I have, to the hilt – they sport nasty-ass choppers, hosting canines bordering on, well, fangs. What’s more, these night-dwelling mammals often employ what’s called a “kill bite,” meaning the animal chomps down for all its worth.

Making matters spookier for the victim was the size of the attacker. Its head seemed as big as a human’s, he told his mom. (More on that size thing in a minute.)

After fending off the attack, Brendan got pissed. “I wanted to throw a cinderblock at it.”

Coming to grips with just happened, Brendan went inside. “I wasn’t going to stay out there with raccoons attacking,” he said.

What happened next was an odd show of what I’ll call post-traumatic politeness. Despite fully realizing he should be driven over to the hospital, ASAP, he didn’t want to bother his sleeping housemate or his mom, who lives nearby.

“I waited to a reasonable hour to call my mom.” That was 6 a.m.-ish. “By then I was starting to get nervous.”

Arriving at the ER, the bite was given a critical cleaning. Wildlife bites, even shallow ones, pose an inordinate threat of infection, some of those infections being highly resistant to antibiotics.

But treatment-wise, the worst was yet to come. And you surely know where this is going: the famed rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

As if things weren’t hurting enough for Brendan, out jumped a series of slow, deep injections.

He received a shot in the arm, two above his buttocks and something of a grand finale in the form of a leg shot. The last offered a major hurt. “My leg really hurt. It felt like fire.”

Brendan limped out of the hospital with the help of his mom.

Post-bite, the family contacted the police who, in turn, alerted animal control.

Chatting with Dan at animal control in Little Egg Harbor (which serves Ship Bottom), there isn’t a whole helluva lot they can now do, short of following the law requiring the nearest health department be informed of the attack, post haste.

Animal control has set out a trap, albeit in a less-than-hopeful effort to nab the dark-of-night neck attacker. The odds are slim-to-none they’ll cage the proper perp. While a raccoon might be nabbed … will it be the raccoon? Likely not. That doesn’t mean it won’t get grilled.

“Come on, give it up, biter. You’re guilty as sin and you know it. Why else would you be wearing a mask?”

I liken such a post-bite trapping effort to hunting down the exact shark involved in an attack on a swimmer.

As to where the incident goes now, administratively, it’s in the skilled hands of the Long Beach Island Health Department, which is also at a bit of a loss, regarding the culprit.

Department head Dan Krupinski, while confirming the absolute need for the victim to get the rabies post-exposure shots, has no way of determining the health of the aggressive raccoon.

“The difficult part is we can’t observe the animal; can’t confirm whether or not it’s well,” he said.

Should a wild biter, like a raccoon, be caught in the act, so to speak, it must quickly be neutralized and sent out for testing … head first.

“Skunks, raccoons, foxes and bats that bite humans should be euthanized and tested as soon as possible. The length of time between rabies virus appearing in the saliva and onset of symptoms is unknown for these animals, and holding them for observation is not acceptable,” offers the Centers for Disease Control, the final repository of all wildlife bite cases.

When testing for rabies, something called a direct fluorescent antibody test is used. It demands brains, as in “fresh, unfixed brain tissue,” per the state health department.

No living animals are accepted for rabies testing. I’m guessing the US Postal Service fully supports that mandate.

Important: The LBI Health Department is the go-to agency in cases of local animal bites. The department is then able to determine the general health patterns of wildlife in the area, including (heaven forbid) the arrival of rabies on LBI.

Of note: Krupinski recalled another LBI raccoon bite case that took place in Loveladies. In that instance, a man was bitten on the leg in a run-by biting. Once again, it was needle time.

JUMBO RACCOONS HEREIN: Jersey raccoons might be the largest in the world. While I’m not sure if that qualifies as a feather in our state cap, we’re seemingly highly esteemed by this form of persevering wildlife.

I use the word “persevering” to vicariously compliment raccoons on their uncanny ability to expand their range, while greatly increasing their numbers. This biomass success flies in the scowling face of mankind – and its wildlife-extinguishing ways.

Hereabouts, raccoons grow disproportionately large. Male raccoons, called boars, can exceed three feet in length, pushing well over 30 pounds. Add punked-out fur to that bulk and they afford a formidable look. When reared up for battle, teeth bared, a mega-raccoon is on visual par with an unrelated wolverine.

Oddly, raccoons are distantly related to the bear family, though I don’t think the concept of Smokey Raccoon will ever catch fire.

Females raccoons, called sows, aren’t lagging far behind in size. Which offers a perfect transitional point to my guesses on the possible whys behind the Ship Bottom attack.

First off, I’ll routinely rule out the attacker being a male raccoon. Those guys are highly human-shy, at least when it comes to snuggling up with humans in houses and homes.

Female raccoons are a whole other animal. They’re notorious for seeking out the shelter of human digs, freely and adroitly entering attics, cellars, chimneys and crawl spaces when pregnant.

Kits (young raccoons) motivate mom to think outside the natural box when it comes to keeping a mighty fine roof over her family unit, technically called a gaze.

While this time of year finds most gazes empty, that doesn’t rule out a tired and possibly irritable mom still protecting kit hangers-on. Accidentally sitting down near even one of her freeloading kids and it’s Katy bar the door – and cover the neck.

That said, there’s an equal chance the SB attack hits closer to the belly than the family.

The size of the biter indicates she has it fat, living the high life, food-wise. With such a sweet existence comes fierce territoriality. It might be the raccoon saw the sitting man as a potential food-swiping interloper. “Not on my watch, buddy!” It’s a repurposing of the saying, “When you’re a hammer … everything looks like a nail.”

I’m sure not making light of the attack, because it hits close to home. I live well within the grazing range of a now proven nighttime neck-attacker. I won’t be going out to my backyard clothesline in the dark. I’ll hereafter flick on the back light. Even aggro wildlife seldom stands up against a sudden 100-watt light attack.

I must offer a caveat about food bowls left outside for feral cats. This is not a condemnation of kindness toward feral felines. But, per the health department, it’s essential to keep a close eye on what’s coming to dinner. Added vigilance is needed on the part of wild cat aficionados. Monitor those bowls to assure it’s preferred cats, not other, potentially more ferocious, creatures fattening up out there.

Tracker tip: If you place food bowls on decks and porches, sprinkle some talcum or baby powder nearby. Check for tracks in the powder to see what’s been dining overnight. Raccoon tracks are fully unique, looking a bit like tiny human hands.

IT’S ALMOST ON!: The signup for the ready-to-rumble, 63rd Annual LBI Surf Fishing Classic (Oct. 7-Dec. 10) has been decent … but I haven’t seen your name yet! WTF?!

This event is giving away prizes and money out the kazoo. Even a small enter-able fish can be worth a nice chunk of change – or a prize well worth your entry-fee effort.

I’ll also go the emotional route by assuring just your signing up helps perpetuate one of the longest – if not the longest – surfcasting contests in the nation. Keep this tourney alive and well by taking part.

Of general interest, I heard of a couple redfish caught near the Causeway bridge. The Classic once again has a prize for the first red drum: “One $100 Cash Award for First Legal Red Drum.”

Here’s one of the cooler prizes for the 2107 Classic, one highly suited to an obsessive plugger like me: “Lure Only - No Bait Prize: John Parzych, a longtime friend and participant of the Classic, offers two custom rods; one to the largest bluefish and one to the largest striped bass caught on a lure (artificial).”

Then there’s the “$100 Fisherman’s Headquarters Gift Certificate for Heaviest Striped Bass Each Saturday & Sunday.”

Oh, hell, I might as well include the cashy special prizes.

2017 Bonus Cash Days. Save The Dates!

October 8 - $500 Cash Award for Largest Striped Bass.

October 12 - $250 Cash Award for Largest Striped Bass, in honor of Robert “Jingles” O’Brien from Jingles B&T.

October 19 - $250 Cash Award for Largest Striped Bass, in honor of Ric O’Brien from Jingles B&T.

October 31 - $500 Cash Award for Largest Striped Bass, courtesy of Surf City B&T.

November 5 - $500 Cash Award for Largest Striped Bass.

November 16 - $500 Cash Award for Largest Striped Bass, in honor of Frank Panzone.

November 23 - $250 Cash Award for Largest Striped Bass, in honor of Bruce Hoagland from the Hoagland Family.

All that “special” greenery is above and beyond an already fat bankroll going out to daily, weekly, segment, and grand prize winners.

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