Friday, July 12, 2024

About Electric Sharks

I have faced down a choice between death by sharks and death by electricity. Donald Trump is getting treated very unfairly over this question, and I empathize with him.

The former president recently posed this hypothetical involving an electric boat and a shark: “What would happen if the boat sank from its weight? And you’re in the boat and you have this tremendously powerful battery, and the battery is now underwater and there’s a shark that’s approximately 10 yards over there?”

He then got to the heart of the matter: “Do I get electrocuted if the boat is sinking and water goes over the battery? Do I stay on top of the boat and get electrocuted, or do I jump over by the shark and not get electrocuted?”

Upon hearing this scenario, you—like pretty much the whole rest of the world—might have asked yourself, “What the hell is he talking about?!”

Not me. No siree. I know what he was contemplating – a choice between getting electrocuted or eaten by a shark. That’s a dilemma I almost had to face myself: death by shark or electrocution, but in my case, electric storm, not electric boat. Let me explain…

When I was a younger-ish reporter at The National Law Journal, I was assigned to accompany a team on a shark-tagging tournament off Montauk, Long Island. The team was sponsored by, and included, lawyers from a big New York law firm. Kind of a mid-life-crisis cruise.

We set out before dawn on the 41-foot Hatteras-class My Mate, captained by the legendary Joe McBride. We sailed out about 60 miles in search of shark-infested waters, and Capt. McBride delivered. During the journey, the early morning fog never quite lifted and we saw little of the June sun.

Then came the chum, what some people call sushi, which quickly attracted numerous sharks, mostly blue sharks. The five of us each took a turn in the “fight chair,” and I was able to disprove that lawyers don’t go shark fishing out of professional courtesy. Cue rim shot.

I reeled in a 120-pound shark that took about 45 minutes to reel. The shark was brought in close to the boat, and the mate, whose name was Bob, I think, attached a tag with a beacon to the beast.

We released it, and this is the cool part: The tags were intended to track the sharks’ migration, and my name was assigned to this shark’s tag. About two years later I got a postcard from the research institute saying my shark was caught and released off the coast of North Africa. And a year or so later it was spotted in the Gulf of Mexico.

I learned of these encounters only because I survived what was coming next on our 12-hour cruise.

By noon, the sky was still grey and hazy. It was hard to distinguish the horizon. But, to the west the skies grew darker, and the water became choppy. Just about that time, one of the lawyers hooked what the mate believed to be a fish in excess of 300 pounds.

Then the storm rolled over us. Lightning. Lots of it. My experience with boating up to that point was Greenwood Lake or Lake Hopatcong, and when you saw signs of a thunderstorm, you immediately headed in and got off the water.

So, what do we do here, with the closest shore 60 miles away? Keep fishing. The boat was tossed around as good as the boat in “The Perfect Storm.” Waves came over the sides of the boat and lightning was everywhere, repeatedly striking the boat’s antenna and hitting the water all around us.

Now, I like thunderstorms, but this was an embarrassment of riches. And while all this is going on, Mate Bob is throwing more bait in the water while there is a 300-pound shark on the line and more sharks circling the boat.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was living the Hobson’s choice that would one day be hypothesized by a future president: Death by electrocution or death by shark. I had three hours to think about it, because that’s how long it took to reel in the shark while one storm after another rolled over the boat. (Yes, I’ve since learned blue and thresher sharks rarely bother people, but at the time, all I knew was we were in a storm in a boat surrounded by…SHARKS!)

We finally got the thresher into the boat, and because it was 315 pounds—Bob knew what he was talking about—it was big enough to be brought back. After a two-hour trip back through our perfect storm, we made it just in time for the weigh-in. Apparently, most of the other boats had a little more sense and turned back early because of the weather. But despite the sparse competition, our shark came in second.

I asked Bob his thoughts on the weather. He said that in 25 years, that was one of the worst days of storms he’d experienced. I’m glad he said that, because if he said something that started with “That was nothing….” I was going to push him in the bay and run like hell.

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.