This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

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Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Sharks Are Back, and So Am I

            At least for this post anyway.  Yes, the sharks are back in the Atchafalaya Basin, and they are early this year.  I was down at Myette Point (St. Mary Parish) this past week and my friend Edward Couvillier is having his trotlined catfish cut in half by sharks already. And he is 40 miles from salt water.  I say already because most of the time the water level has to be pretty low (down to 4 feet or less) for sharks to begin their annual ascent of the Atchafalaya River.  This year the water gauge at Butte La Rose is still up at about 14 feet – very high for sharks.  Last year during the late-summer shark season I went out with Edward to see what was happening.  Sure enough, as he ran the trotline he began to find fish that were still on the hook, but only a dead head remained.  It makes you think of all those fish just caught with nowhere to go and then comes this mouth full of teeth and…

And then we came up to a fish head that was not showing that glassy eye that dead fish show, because it was still breathing.   Just a head, with the gills going in and out.  Now, up to now I had been thinking that these fish had been eaten the previous night.  I don’t know why I thought that, but somehow it seemed more in keeping with the shark demeanor for it to be hunting along in the darkness.  Yet, here was this live fish head at 8:00 a.m.  Picture the water below the boat, about 10 feet deep, with feeding sharks maybe a couple feet from you down below.  How big are they?  Who knows?  The biggest one I know of from near here was caught around  Henderson a couple years ago and it was a six footer. Even though there has never been a reported attack in the Basin, these are not small fish.

            On another shark tack, some of you know that I do a type of archaeology that involves identifying animal bone (non human) from Native American sites in Louisiana. The last site that I did an analysis for was one that is in what is now St. Mary Parish, near Patterson.  The bone from this site contained two shark teeth from the same species that we get in the river every year – the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucus).  And also within the bone sample was a single shark vertebra.  There was a hole drilled in the center of the vertebra, probably to allow a series of similar ones to be strung together like beads, perhaps as ornamentation of some kind. 

Anyway, these discoveries suggest that Native Americans in south Louisiana were making use of sharks in the lower Atchafalaya Basin 1400 years ago.  As a matter of fact, I would imagine they were much more aware of the sharks than we are today, even though the fish have been annual visitors to the waters of the Atchafalaya Basin ever since, and the number of people who might observe them has multiplied many times.  I guess we just don't need to know, so we don't.

             The river gauge at Butte La Rose reads 14.3 feet today, and will remain about 14 feet for at least the next seven days.  Very high water for this time of year, and the crawfishermen are loving it.  Amazing numbers of trucks and boat trailers at the Myettte Point landing, most of them from Catahoula it seems.
Rise and Shine, Jim