The Fish Story

When Sharkers Reach Hazardous Release Points; Nature Awesomely Struts Its Stuff for Beachgoers

By JAY MANN | Aug 29, 2018
Supplied A Surf City-caught brown shark left a decent mark on this surfcaster's thigh. While not real serious, it created quite a splash, media-wise.

I have a quick follow-up to last week’s shark-bites-angler tale out of Surf City. Added incoming info suggests it might have either been a selfie gone wrong or a 4-foot-ish brown shark taking umbrage with being dragged back toward the ocean for a proper and legal release. If so, such a release-based bite is far from a rarity. The latest shark-bite data – and all such bites are well followed – proves that the Free Willy phase of sharking is a notorious revenge-of-the-shark bite-back time. Experts have long warned anglers – with living proof available on YouTube – about the bloody mayhem that can occur when a shark landing is winding down, along with a wind down of due diligence.

While releases gone amuck have led to shark teeth meeting human bone, the recent LBI bite-back saw no egregious bodily harm done to the angler, who knows angling quite well. Nothing bad befell the other three guys who took time to pose with the capture.

Even with this incident barely healed, I’ll openly admit to fully endorsing catch-selfie-release angling methodology, a la sharks. There’s just a gaping need for added vigilance during the “release” part. Thinking on the sharks’ behalves, a quick freeing is the only way to protect the lives and times of often-federally-protected, just-landed sharks. A shark’s insides are especially thankful.

Most folk don’t realize that even the most bullish sharks, when pulled onto land or on-deck, can suffer catastrophic internal organ damage. This is due to both their body-wrenching writhing and also a crushing top-body heaviness when on land. The quicker sharks are released, the quicker the gravitational weight of the world is relieved, and the water’s buoyancy performs its equalizing magic.

Even though a rapid interplay ’twixt angler and captured shark is the conservationally sound way to go, the accompanying bloodletting by anglers hints at a glitch in my catch/selfie/release Manntra. The faster a release is performed, the more piss and vinegar the shark still has at its turnabout disposal when being hauled toward the water. What’s more, when a distressed shark sniffs the wet sand, its spunk level explodes. Spunkiness and vengefulness seem to go hand-in-hand – maybe more like mouth-to-hand.

I’ll re-note that sharks have keen night vision, enhanced by electronic skin-surface sensors, akin to added sight. When coupled with a shark’s ability to see when out of the water, many a bitten soul is left rightfully suspecting, “I think that bastard swung around and bit me on purpose.”

Grabbing at solution straws, might it be advantageous for sharking surfcasters to bring along a tail rope? That would seemingly distance the angler from the shark’s biting end when hauling it waterward. By the same token, trying to then undo the tail rope, just as the shark goes a bit ballistic with the taste of freedom? I’m open for suggestions. Just keep in mind it is federally illegal to, say, bat-bop a shark on the head to create a safer release moment.

WILD WILDLIFE WEEKEND: There were a slew of wildly natural sights to behold from the beach this past quite-nice August weekend. Let’s start with the showy spinner shark well-seen just off 47th Street in Brant Beach. I took it in via photos sent my way by Laura M.

Immersed in a high-flying feeding mode, the 4-foot spinner made a real spectacle of itself by going repeatedly airborne, to the soaring delight of onlooking beachgoers. Repeated aeros are the hallmark of this listed-as-harmless species. They often take to the sky near beaches. A launch-and-land feeding strategy allows them to surprise and confuse the tasty forage below. I know I was surprised and confused the first time one jettisoned only a few feet from me and my surfboard near Cape Canaveral Pier. In fact, spinners’ multi-leap launches offer a remarkable watch for waveriders. Theory suggests the sharks are drawn to surfers, whose surfboards offer cover for forage fish. I recall a case of a spinner literally landing atop a surfer’s board – both surfer and shark abandoning the board in nothing flat.

I’ll repeat that even though this shark’s jaws are very powerful, even by shark standards, they are highly uninclined to turn on humans – unless landed by an angler, but we’ve kinda been through that already.

Sadly, the days of stunning spinner shark aerial displays are fading into the overfished sunset. Due, in part, to their visual similarity to the far more common black tip shark, spinners have been fished into a threatened species state. It’s an ugly pun, but the species’ long-term survival is spinning out of control.

Now, onto other weekend nature sightings, like the humpback whale – or whales – seen from assorted LBI beachfronts. For the past couple decades or so, these cetaceans have been spotted surfacing within eyeshot of LBI. This year seems unusually whaley, with the height of humpback season yet to arrive.

The closest to shore I’ve seen one was not that long ago in Beach Haven. That whale was well within the casting range of anglers – not that any fishermen would be nuts enough to try hooking into one, even kiddingly. That assured, we did have a highly accidental foul-hooking of a particularly large whale near Holyoke Avenue jetty in the Queen City. The be-whaled angler had been frantically tossing lures into a massive school of baby bunker, hoping to nab a bass or bluefish in the mix. The whale rose totally out of the blue, amid the bunker, within spitting distance of the rocks. Before the angler even had time to fully register the mammal’s arrival, he snagged it. Oh, there was no fight involved. The line snapped before the caster could even emit an “Oh, s***!” I can assure the bountifully blubbered whale never felt so much as a jab from the lure’s hook.

Onward to Harvey Cedars, where a slew of us watched one of the largest bottlenose dolphin pods I had ever seen as it slowly paraded by, south to north. While dolphin pods seldom number more than 15 members, this must have been a pod train of some sort. It was 200 yards long, with dolphins by the dozens. I’m guessing it might have been an opportunistic feeding sortie for combined pods more than an unprecedented dolphin conga line – though they had been down in the Caribbean all winter.

Then, before our eyes, the dolphins were confronted by a form of instant people pollution. A personal watercrafter bullrushed the dolphins, full speed. The numbnuts then repeatedly accelerated toward any dolphins that surfaced. I was among many fully pissed folks on the beach. The beach’s lifeguard finally whistled at the federal-grade lawbreakers.

By the by, the federal fines for interfering in any way with marine mammals, even simply causing them to alter their course, can be severe, $5,000 or more. The guard’s whistling seemingly drove off the PWC’er, but not before nary a dolphin could be seen. The gooned-out vessel was too far out to read those small PWC reg numbers. I was borderline ready to call the Coast Guard to see if they’d respond to the flagrant pissing off of marine mammals, but the culprit was a dot on the horizon by the time I dug out my cellphone. Despite the insertion of human ugliness, it was still a remarkable display of dolphins.

Finally, clouds of cownose stingrays are still showily cruising around on water wings, sometimes nosing around the bottom flush to the beach. They’re quite a serene sight to behold. Most bathers rightfully have no fear of the harmless interlopers, as they cruise quite close by.

There was also a newsy angle to the rays in Cedars. While I’m still trying to get the details, a fisherman apparently got stung one good by a landed ray. It resulted in a highly recommended trip to the E.R. for him, just to be checked out, which is always a smart move after getting poked by a stingray. I recall writing about a Jersey Shore lifeguard who got ray-stung on the arm, and just shrugged it off. He was soon going through blood poisoning hell. Even though the victim said the entire emergency affair was not all that serious, I was also told he could have easily died from his body’s “bad reaction” to the toxin.

I’ll reiterate that the sting of a stingray is NOT on the tip of its tail. It’s far up the tail, nearer the ray’s body. Simply holding down the tip of the tail, as is too often done, literally invites the creature to freely wing its sting, usually finding meat on a leg or arm, whichever is holding down the tail.

KEEPING IT CLASSIC: I need to begin hyping the 2018, 64th annual Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic, running for nine weeks, from Oct. 6 to Dec. 9. It truly will be longer, bigger and better than ever. A crack committee of talented folks has been meeting monthly to perfect the long-lived tourney, which starts 2018 with some carry-over prize money from last year. Yep, unused prize dollars carry over from year to year.

It should be noted that there are a goodly number of rather big-ticket expenses to running an event like this, including the purchase of T-shirts, weigh-in slips, entry forms, caps, insurance. Nonetheless, accumulated prizes will flow freely this year. Signing up early assures getting shirts, caps and other giveaways. Entry forms will soon be available.

This year’s business sponsorship for the Classic is looking amazing. Sponsorships have always floated the tourney, dating back to 1954 – making it one of the most historic contests on the coast.

Maintaining that business angle, I want to alert area merchants – all of whom benefit from the extended season offered by the Classic – that there are still $50 “Bronze” sponsorships to be had. That level gets the contributing business the event’s revived banner. Banners harken back to the former tourney days, when supporters proudly displayed them, garnering business from entrants and supporters alike. The new banner is conveniently down-sized a bit, allowing for easy window displays. If you’re interested in offering bronze/banner support, check in with the participating weigh-in stations:

Surf City Bait &Tackle, 317 Long Beach Blvd., Surf City;

Fisherman’s Headquarters, 280 W. 9th St., Ship Bottom;

Captain’s Quarters Bait & Tackle, 8201 Long Beach Blvd., Brighton Beach;

Jingles Bait & Tackle, 1214 Long Beach Blvd., North Beach Haven.

UGLY TENTS IN TREES: Of late, a slew of redheads have begun hanging around these parts. And they’re not being very well received. Not to worry, Irish folks, these are the type of redheads even you would find utterly annoying – as they hang out in trees, living within messy silken homes and fattening up by eating constantly.

I’m talking inch-long redheaded fall webworms (Hyphantria cunea), which have become disconcertingly present hereabouts, showily residing on deciduous trees of many a sort. These tenters have even taken to shrubberies, including my feral blueberry bushes in the pines. By my anecdotal observations, this year is exceptionally thick on the webworm front.

Fall webworms will cozy up to 100 different species of plants, feverishly munching away at selected sections of leaves thereon. Their webby homesteads quickly get discolored from excrement and leafy bits of matter. They can make a branch look hideous and piteous.

It’s here that I’ll first suggest that webworms, the larval stage of the tiger moth, are not as bad as they might look. In fact, as caterpillars they’re quite comely, with an overall yellowish green hue and a dark, dusky stripe down the back. Most eye-catching is their covering of very long, punked-out  white hairs, with interspersed black hairs. There is also a black-headed variety, with only the head color marking any difference.

Indigenous silk-spinning webworms are not tent caterpillars, a mix-up that really annoys spring-oriented tent caterpillars, which have much nicer tents, while serving as an essential foodstuff for spring birds, some in dire need of post-migration fattening. Conservation Resource Alliance suggests, “Tent caterpillars are for the birds.” An Alliance article by biologist Kay Charter points out some tent caterpillar confusion: “Do birds eat tent caterpillars? Some of us have either heard or read opinions by both bird and bug people that nothing eats these caterpillars. Upon deeper investigation it is apparent that tent caterpillars, as annoying as they can be, play an important role … for birds and other wildlife.”

Of further note, many types of birds, reptiles and amphibians eat tent caterpillars after they’ve morphed into their rather bland-colored tan moth phase.

Returning to our fall webworms, they also serve as decent fare for an assortment of wildlife, some fattening for winter hibernation. Again, the problem is their haunts don’t look the part of anything beneficial. However, in their moth garb, they are impressively white, with a highly hairy white head and occasional small black spots. You won’t miss one alighting nearby.

So how bad are these leaf-eaters? After factoring in their indigenousness, and seeing they do their dining toward season’s end, they are a drop in the leaf bucket when it comes to overall plant destruction.

According to the Michigan State University Extension horticulture educators, “The larvae are feeding at the end of the growing season and not damaging the trees. Trees have been storing energy all growing season and the small amount of eaten leaves will not have a negative impact on the trees. The webworms are also not eating the buds for next season.”

But there are always your yard and garden warriors, folks inclined to go on the offensive even when pests aren’t all that harmful. For any all-bugs-must-go types, it’s best to stay organic, even when on a caterpillar kill. Think in terms of rousting webworms with a spray or dusting of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), marketed under many brand names; available on Amazon. Bt should be sprayed on a manually broken-apart nest. The bugaboo with Bt is its inability to tell a webworm from, say, a monarch. Per “While not harmful to wildlife, bees and humans Bt will kill non-harmful caterpillars and butterflies and should be used with caution. The web must be open in order to deliver the spray. Affected branch ends can be pruned and burned or thrown in the trash. Do not burn the nests while on the trees as this can cause more damage than the pests themselves.”

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