In June of 1978 I was chartered by ABC Television to assist In the making of
a show for The American Sportsman. I wasn't chosen because of anything special about
me, but rather because of the boat that I was running at the time. The Sea Doll was
a forty-two foot Bruno and Stillman with a very large cockpit and a boom, making
it the perfect boat to handle a large cage designed to protect a diver from sharks.
Our quarry wasn't the ordinary run of the mill sharks that we run into every day
off of Montauk. We were after bigger game - the great white shark. The idea was that
we would go offshore and chum continuously until one showed up, which was not a very
real probability. But, sometimes lady luck steps in, and in our case, we got lucky
in a big way.
The surest way to find a white shark is to first locate a dead whale, and while
the cage was being built, a large, very dead whale was found ten miles south of Moriches
Inlet, about forty miles west of Montauk. At that time every shark fisherman's dream
was to harpoon a white shark, also known as Jaws. For the anglers who fished that
area, this was a dream come true, because there wasn't one white shark, but as many
as a half dozen, ranging in size from about a thousand pounds to possibly three thousand.
As soon as we got the word of this find, we took off for Moriches with the idea
of of claiming the shark for our TV program. We had no trouble in finding the location
of the whale, because of the fleet of boats in the area, all with one thing on their
mind, getting a shot at Jaws. It was quite a scene. About thirty boats were all milling
around this huge dead animal, every one of them with a man stationed on the bow with
a harpoon at the ready, much like that scene in the movie, only in slow motion. We
didn't know it at the time, but one boat was a couple of miles away following his
barrel, which was being towed south by a white shark of about fifteen hundred pounds.
A little while later that boats crew would land their prize, and bring it back to
shore, which would generate even more excitement.
This was going to create a problem for us, because we had no use for a dead
shark. Our job was to film the monster swimming around freely, and eventually to
put a radio transmitter in it for scientists who were interested in studying white
sharks, of which very little was known. So while all the other boats were out to
kill sharks, we were running around trying to protect them. We'd see a shark on the
surface and steam up to it at full speed, actually trying to hit it, trying to scare
it down, to insure that it wasn't stuck by the locals. At one point we saw one cruising
along that no other boats had seen, and instead of trying to put it down we just
moseyed up to it to check it out. We were coming up near it when all hell broke loose.
Another shark slammed into from below, much like a linebacker into a running back,
lifting it about three feet out of the water. Needless to say, no camera was ready.
Toward the end of the day, we came up with an alternate plan. We decided to
ignore the white sharks, and instead put a line on the carcass of the whale and bring
it to Montauk. The white sharks would follow along. We got the line on the animal
fairly quickly and started towing it west when the locals realized what we were trying
to do. This was like stealing a bone from a hungry dog, or rather, a bunch of hungry
dogs. The sharks were no longer the center of attraction, we were.
In a very short while we were surrounded by, what seemed to us, a bunch of screaming
maniacs. We were in the process of stealing their claim to fame, and they were pretty
unhappy about it. Eventually, we were like a stage coach surrounded by Indians. Some
of them were even waving guns at us. It wasn't a very comfortable feeling. To try
to quiet things down, I called the Coast Guard, and in the most sincere voice that
I could muster up, told the radio operator that I was trying to tow the whale out
to sea, to make sure that it didn't wind up on the beach for the upcoming Fourth
of July. After all, who wanted a bunch of white sharks swimming around their beach.
After a short pause, the Coast Guardsman, in a very polite, but firm voice, told
me to untie the whale, or I would be thrown in jail. It seemed that according to
the Marine Mammal Preservation Act, or whatever it was called, it was illegal to
molest a whale, even if it was dead.
That put the kibosh on our plans, but it did establish some ground rules. If
we couldn't touch the whale, neither could the locals. We decided to wait out the
night, and when they had all left, we'd start all over again. Unfortunately, the
locals were wise to us and they set up a rotation of their boats to protect their
prize. Once again however luck smiled on us. Around midnight we were socked in by
fog reducing the visibility to zero, and since nobody was allowed to touch the whale,
contact was lost. When the fog finally lifted the next morning, the whale was gone.
But we were prepared, and within an hour a search plane was up in the air. By the
time the whale was located, I was halfway back to home, but there was a Montauk dragger
in the general area, and he was directed to the carcass.
Twenty-four hours later the whale was safely anchored up twenty miles south-west
of Montauk Point, in an area rarely fished, and therefore not very likely to be discovered.
We were back on the scene, and had only been tied up to the whale for ten minutes
when we saw the first of the five white sharks that we would spend the week filming.
All the newspaper reports about the white shark that was brought into Moriches,
speculated that the whale carcass had most probably sunk overnight. I can't believe
that any knowledgeable people would actually believe that, but neither did I ever
run into anybody who told me anything different.