Sad Memorial to a Finned Shark

Its been a long time since I wrote and posted this tribute to Madonna, my number one shark, when she was finned. It is she with whom I was swimming in this illustration on the cover of my book, The Shark Sessions.

So here it is again.

Ode to Madonna

"In just the last couple of months, waiting for the law to be passed to protect the sharks, the last of the older, mature females I first met some years ago have vanished from my part of the lagoon. This includes my number one shark, Madonna.

Madonna was the first shark to meet my kayak when I arrived in the lagoon in the mornings. She was nearly six feet long, steel grey, and heavily built. When I dove down and swam to her, she would come to me and look into my mask.

Meeting her by chance in the lagoon, she would swim to me when I called her, and circle, spiralling toward me til she was within arms' reach. But she did not like me to swim with her. She would set off on a sinuous path, and when I followed, she would come back, often turn sideways, accelerate and stop, or just vanish into the blue, but usually not before we had gone to meet up with one or two of her friends. Never could I detect the slightest sign between them as they passed, but I didn't think it could be chance that we had met up with them, knowing that they were her friends.

Beautiful Madonna was not one of our brightest lights. When I brought a treat for her, as I always did when she returned to her home range after breeding or birthing, I would sometimes have to throw it for her time after time before she could locate it, and often one of her friends would coil through the water to snatch it the moment it left my hand, a trick poor Madonna could never manage. Once I spent 45 minutes in terrible current just trying to get her treat to her.

Nevertheless, she would hopefully come to me for a bite. When I had nothing, and was actually promenading in the lagoon with her friend Martha, she would come charging in. I would fin backward, till we were swimming nose to nose, me on my back and her on top of me, while Martha circled us, watching. Madonna would finally give up when she realized I had nothing with me, and me and Martha would go on alone.

Madonna did this once when it was almost too dark to see, having arrived with a group of rather macho males from the ocean. She behaved as if she were starving to death, having just had her babies. When she soared up to my face all her companions did too, and while I could guide her around me with my hand, I didn't have enough hands to push away half a dozen sharks at once, and didn't want to be rammed by the strangers or have my mask knocked off in the dark.

Feeling sorry for my poor shark, who did look awfully emaciated after birthing, I returned as soon as conditions permitted, and trailed scent through her home range, followed by a tiny juvenile who always followed me, just out of sight, at that time. Finally, Madonna glided in, the juvenile now flitting excitedly at her side, apparently more confident in the presence of the big shark.

As she circled, I tossed the food so it fell to the side of her swimway, and saw her target it, but she slowed, allowing the excited juvenile to get it first. Luckily I had brought enough for both. 

I spent so much time with Madonna, I can remember every gesture, every movement she would make in different moods.

We all read all the time about thousands of sharks being finned all over the world, but when the sharks meeting this shocking end are ones you have come to know, and with whom you have spent time for many years, sharks of whom you have grown fond, the psychological effect is more intense.

Just as it is disturbing to read in the paper that some dogs elsewhere were poisoned -- but if it is your dogs who were poisoned and died, you reel."
You can form a companionship with a shark just as you can with a dog, and they are just as intelligent and sensitive. They should not be fished; they should not be finned. They are peaceful creatures and there is no need to fear them.

(c) Ila France Porcher


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