Mark Spitzer is an associate professor of writing at the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than twenty-five books, including Season of the Gar: Adventures in Pursuit of America’s Most Misunderstood Fish, Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West (Bison Books, 2017), and In Search of Monster Fish: Angling for a More Sustainable Planet (Nebraska, 2019). Spitzer has consulted for Nat Geo’s Monster Fish and appeared on Animal Planet’s River Monsters.
Shark Week Edition!
A few summers ago I realized that if I was truly committed to writing a book about the concept of “monster fish,” then there was no way I could avoid not going after sharks. So I went out to Long Island to conduct some Montauk monster research, which supplied the occasion for Chapter 5 of In Search of Monster Fish: Angling for a more Sustainable Planet—a book now out and burning to be read by those stuck at home due to the Dread Virus.
This global pandemic is definitely a disruption for billions of folks, including those who can’t go fishing. Still, this disruption offers various opportunities to reframe how we go about things. Case in point: since we can’t all just go out and catch sharks in this world of social distancing, it’s still possible to vicariously experience that adrenal rush by joining me in battling a 200-pound, seven-and-a-half-foot “man-eating shark”—which you can see for yourself here.
What you won’t see in this brief video, however, are the narratives that got left out. Like my maddening quest for permissions to use bizarre photos of a bloody Chinese “shark-fin soup wedding” in which shark carcasses are scattered around a proudly beaming bride and groom, guts and gore everywhere (pictured below). Or how I documented the internationally illegal mass marketing of juvenile tuna in Borneo and beyond, which ties into the equation of 100 million top predators per year being removed from ecosystems, thereby creating extremely destructive chain reactions. Or how considering the dynamics of this issue led to a highly practical solution offered in the book’s conclusion.
What you will see in the shark chapter, though, are flashes of action: porpoises and skittering birds; an unnerving ghost trawler emerging from an eerie fog of death; serial shark-killer Frank Mundus blowing up world record white sharks (and the mythology of Jaws that evolved from that); and then, of course, the hit, the gripping Man vs. Shark Smackdown, and the victorious release. But there are also monster stripers involved, and I’m talking fifty-pounders!
Most importantly, these visions carry environmental messages about how to repair the current crippling devastation of our oceans at a time when overfishing, habitat loss, invasive species, plummeting oxygen levels, and pollution are taking catastrophic tolls on fisheries. Which is why I ultimately recommend “opening a brand new bucket of chum” (78).
So what’s in that metaphorical chum bucket? Well, just buy a copy and find out for yourself. Or since Father’s Day is coming up, order it for someone who’s cooped up in lockdown and is down with the idea of keeping monster fish around for as long as possible. They’ll be glad you did, and you will too, and so will I. It’s a win-win-win situation. So let’s join forces and get through this viral feeding frenzy together!