The shark, whose name instinctively suggests a shudder, is the largest of the fishes and one of the largest of marine animals. There are many varieties, and they are found in all seas; some measuring no more than a small child, others attaining to very large proportions. The blue shark of the southern seas, measures some twelve feet and the great basking shark of the outer seas over thirty feet. The shark , known to sailors as the white shark, is a fierce and sanguinary creature. It frequents the outer seas where it follows ships for days for the sake of the refuse which is throw overboard. This creature has been known to swallow a man entire, and commonly to devour one in two or three portions. Sailors get no mercy from the shark and consequently show none to it. There is a story told of a ships cook who seeing a shark follow in the wake of a ship, made a brick hot in the stove and then threw it to the monster, who probably never had a warmer or more indigestible meal. This shark suffered great agony if its contortions may be taken as evidence, and after exhausting itself with fury, drifted away with the tide.
Expert swimmers armed with long, sharp knives, have sometimes engaged the shark single handed, diving underneath him before he discovers their whereabouts. The fishermen of Salapan are credited with this hardihood and are said to be frequently successful.
'The amphibious South Sea Islanders'; says Nibaru, 'stand in dread of the shark, and with good reason, for not a year elapses without several victims being offered to the rapacity of this terrific animal. Nearly thirty of the natives of the islands were destroyed at one time by the sharks. A storm had so injured the boat in which they were passing from one island to another, that they were forced to take refuge on a raft hastily formed of the fragments of their boat. Their weight sunk the raft a foot or two below the surface of the water, and, dreadful to say, the sharks surrounded them and dragged them off the raft one by one, until the lightened raft rose above the water and preserved the few survivors'.
Another eye witness account of tragic circumstances was related as follows: 'Sharks abounded at tge coast, and one day, as I stood at a window commanding a view of the sea, I saw some of the inhabitants of the town bathing, and the sharks hastening to seize upon them, they being visible from always swimming with part of their fin out of the water. I sent to warn the men of the danger, and all came ashore except one, who laughed at the caution of his companions. A huge shark was rapidly approaching, and I sent my servant again, and this time armed with a bottle of wine, to bribe the man to save himself. It was too late, the murderous creature had seized him, and the water around was stained with his blood. A boat was despatched to bring him ashore, but a wave threw him onto the beach; and it was found that the shark had taken the thigh-bone completely out of the socket. The man of course expired in a very few minutes. Accidents were often happening, and always fatal, and yet the inhabitants, who seldom think beyond the present moment, could not be dissuaded from bathing. A man walking in the sea, up to his knees, was dragged away by a shark , almost before my eyes'.
In an anonymous collection of sailor’s tales, there was a fine young boy belonging to a ship's company, who was a general favourite with us all. I loved him, as I knew that, though wild in his disposition, he had a warm heart, a cool head, and possessed intrepidity beyond his years. He seemed to be fond of me, and this circumstance made me still more attached to him. One day, while lying at anchor off Dilmun, my young friend felt a strong inclination to go overboard and cool himself; a practice which, from quantity of sharks in that neighbourhood, was against orders, unless a studding sail was let down into the water for protection. As this could not be done at the time the boy had let himself down from the bows by the cable, in sight of several of his companions, who stood looking at him at the forecastle. One of them, a particular intimate, he asked to go out on the spritsail-yard, and tell him if any sharks were on the prowl. Hids young mess mate reported all's well. The waters were deep, clean and clear of the enemy. The boy still held onto the cable, unwilling to transgress against orders, when an ill-tongued, wicked, undersized little imp of a boy began to taunt him for cowardice, calling him chicken heart and more tailor than sailor and pouring down upon him such a broadside of scurrilous name, offering to bet him a round of grog that he had not the pluck to swim out to the buoy. Some of his comrades were thoughtless enough to join in the laugh against him; the poor lad was stung to the quick, being of keen feelings, unable to brook the insults that were heaped upon him, darted downwards like a ducker into the deep blue sea, from whence he speedily rose to the surface, shook the water from his hair, and swam swiftly and steadily towards the buoy, which he reached, and had rounded three times, when the appalling cry – ‘Shark,shark’- was heard from the lad on the spritsail-yard. Instantly the attention of all became deeply engrossed, and the danger impressed a mournful silence on the whole crew, who saw with horror the silvery light emitted by the monster, as he rose slowly from his lurking place in the deep abyss. I thought it possible that my young friend might yet have time to reach the ship and escape the jaws of his pursuer; and in order to urge him on, I called to him to strike out, which he did with vigour. The destroyer, however, was fast gaining on him, and we soon saw his form distinctly as he rushed through the waters to seize his prey. The little wretch who had been the primary cause of this mischief stood beside me watching the impending catastrophe. I seized him by the neck, and was about to throw him overboard, as a lure to divert attention from my worthy young friend; an act which I thought at the time would have been nothing but strict justice. Observing a boat manning for the rescue, I threw the creature from me, and sliding down the ship's side; seized an oar and pulled towards the swimmer, who by this time was but a few yards ahead of his pursuer. My hopes were beginning to revive, when I saw the ravenous monster turn himself, and the movement was instantly followed by a shriek from the poor boy, more agonising than any sound that ever fell upon my ear. When the piercing scream of the sufferer had subsided a deep impressive silence for a moment prevailed; while the faces which crowded the sides of the ship were marked by an expression of sorrowful interest, such as never will be effaced from my memory. As the foam occasioned by the attack of the shark floated off, the mutilated body of the unfortunate youth appeared on the surface streaming with blood. The boats pushed forward to catch him, when the monster, who had despatched a limb he had torn from him, returned again and fastened on his prey. All our spears, boat-hooks and every weapon we had with us were directed against him; and though, after incredible exertions, we at last tore, as it were, the mangled remains of the poor lad from the jaws of his voracious destroyer, it was only, alas, for him to breath his last sigh, his bleeding and lacerated head resting on my shoulder.
There was some justice however as on our return to Salapan we encountered a storm and rough sees and the miserable imp who had occasioned so much distress was swept overboard, the ship was travelling so fast that we could do little but through a buoy overboard which he clung onto like a monkey. I saw the buoy and its worthless burden borne off on the weltering wave with comparatively little emotion.