It was siesta time after lunch, a very important aspect of our day, and I was doing some writing, Cam was outside working on the accounts and Yael was having a quick nap. Then, Cam’s phone rang. A minute later he was in the house,
“One of the beach bar guys has just called me, there’s a shark down on the beach,” Cam said, rushing into the bedroom to get Yael.
“In the water?” I asked confused, Cam said they didn’t get sharks inside the reef.
“No idea – that’s all he said,” he replied, ducking in through the bedroom door. I grabbed my GoPro in case it was in the water and another camera in case it wasn’t. Cam and Yael grabbed their phones and off we went to the beach.
“I think that’s the fastest I’ve ever seen you get up,” Cam joked as we walked down. “I’m gonna start using that more often in the mornings,”
We walked along the beach to the landing site, near where we’d been sorting plastic earlier, and there we saw it. A black tip reef shark, about five feet long, slumped over the back of a blue plastic sailboat. Khamisi, one of the local fishermen, stood over it with a wicked grin on his face, looking at the other locals that had come to see with pride. Blood seeped out of the dead shark’s mouth and onto the blue plastic, turning it a dark purple.
“Wow,” I said, taking in the whole thing.
“Mzuri sana,” Khamisi said, ‘Very good’, shaking our slightly stunned hands.
“White snapper,” he said meaningfully. “Alive,” I assumed that he was aware that this was not a snapper so I nodded as if I knew what he meant and knelt down next to the shark to look at its head. It’s eye was an amazing mottled grey and gold colour, with a vertical slitted pupil like the gap in a money box.
Another fisherman pulled open the sharks mouth so I could see inside. There were surprisingly few teeth, and its entire mouth was basted in a gentle pink colour, as the diluted blood swilled around inside. I thanked the fisherman and stood up, taking in the rest of the shark’s impressive form.
It wasn’t huge, but I could feel how strong it was as I pressed into the skin over its tail, feeling the powerful muscles underneath. It’s dorsal fin was thin and a little ragged at the top with an almost translucent quality I’d never been able to see before. Behind the base of this fin was almost a bald patch, where the skin was totally smooth. The namesake black marks on its fins seemed to bleed into its skin like ink on soft paper. It was majestic. I traced my fingers along the sides of its flanks, smooth from head to tail but so rough from tail to head it could almost cut your skin. We could even see the scars from wounds long healed that dotted its skin like punctuation. The ragged edges of its gills gaped open, exposing the redness inside.
Khamisi flipped it over so that its underside was exposed. He pulled out a knife and slit the shark from the base of its belly all the way to its head. I edged forwards, fascinated by the different organs as he rummaged around inside.
If I didn’t know any better I would have assumed that it was an eel inside the cavity of the shark not its small intestines. Khamisi made a small noise of accomplishment and pulled out a nondescript organ. I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening so I just kept quiet and watched in a mixture of slight horror and fascination as he pulled a whole fish out of the shark’s stomach. It was perfectly complete white snapper and I would never have guessed it had been partially digested by a shark. Khamisi then pulled out a huge hook and threaded it back through a hole in the fish that I hadn’t noticed. And then I understood.
“You catch the shark with a live white snapper?” I asked.
“Yes,” Khamisi replied, “Is very good,”
“You know he doesn’t have a rod.” Cam added, “He just has fishing line and a spool to roll it onto,” I couldn’t imagine hauling in such a creature using a specialised fishing rod let alone using my bare hands and some fishing line.
“Where did you catch?” I ask, hoping it was nearby so that we might be able to see sharks another day.
“Vipingo beach,” he replied. So not in the Marine Protected Area and a little bit further north from us. Not very close, but not impossible either.
Once Khamisi and his friend had pulled out all of the organs of the shark they carried the bloodied body down to the sea. They dunked it in, sending curling tendrils of red through the water which then dissipated into nothingness.
They then hauled its dripping carcass back up the beach and onto the back of the boat.
Someone brought over a yellow piece of rope and they tied it around the tail a few times, tying knots to keep it secure. They then hung an electric weighing scale from a tree and shunted the shark over to see how much is was. The digital display flashed up 20.7kg.
“Will you be able to sell it for lots of money,” I asked, hoping that at least this shark’s death would be able to provide a good income for Khamisi and therefore be a little bit worth it.
“I think is 250 bob per kilo,” Khamisi replied. I hoped my dismay didn’t show on my face as I attempted to smile encouragingly. That was less than £2 per kilo.
We spent another ten or fifteen minutes taking in the shark as it swung delicately from side to side like some perverse piñata. By now the belly of the shark was mottled and red (or as Yael put it ‘like one massive old lady leg’) as the blood pooled in its broken blood vessels.
It was amazing to be able to get so close to such an impressive creature. I was a mix of equal parts excitement and anger. It was upsetting to see such a beautiful animal gutted on the side of a boat, especially as someone so passionate about marine conservation, but I understood that many fishermen didn’t see the sharks the way I do. To them it was just like any other big fish they’ve ever caught. And I couldn’t forget how awesome it was to really feel the texture of sharkskin and see the shark’s internal organs. I would never have been able to that normally.
And of course ultimately the decision wasn’t up to me. The shark was dead by the time we got to the beach so at that point you only really have two options: to either turn away in horror or to maximise the opportunity that is literally lying at your feet.
I think you know which one I picked.