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Shark Teeth Pearly White | Yankee Classic

Kirkpatrick and Strout jump feetfirst into the waves and make it to the cage without a shark in sight. Hoping to bring the fish back, Donilon throws the tuna carcass far out of sight and then, hauling the rope hand over hand, brings the sharks up close to the boat.

Out here with the nearest land over the horizon, it would be easy to assume that this water is a pristine refuge from man. But now that the sharks are close enough to see clearly, such notions fade away. Four of the five have clear signs of previous human encounters. One has a long strand of mossy fishing line threaded through its gills; another drags a shorter piece of line that ends in a lime-green, squid-shaped lure the size of a dust mop. Two more have tags sticking from their backs. These are the survivors. Nobody knows how many others have been carved into steaks and sent off to the supermarket.

“It’s incredible,” Donilon says. “Hardly a virgin fish out here.”

He studies the water above the cage where the two women are watching the spectacle up close. The bubbles from their breathing gear rise in heavy bursts. For now, Donilon says, the seas still have a few blue sharks. His business is fine. But he wonders how long the sharks can last off New England. He has seen this pattern of boom, exploitation, and bust before; the cod are down to a tiny fraction of their old abundance, as are tuna and swordfish. When Donilon caught his first shark in the 1970s, New England ‘ s marine riches seemed as if they would last forever. Now he wants the government to enact stronger shark protection before the fish that once seemed the ultimate symbol of invincibility are gone for good.

He stares down at the wild predator circling the cage. The heavy filament line hangs out of its gill. “Something’s got to happen,” he says. “Otherwise there aren’t going to be any of these things left.”

Updated Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

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