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
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.
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.
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