15-foot tiger shark gets mouthful of boat
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By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer
By Jan TenBruggencate
FRENCH FRIGATE SHOALS — A massive, hooked and tied female tiger shark attacked an inflatable boat Saturday during shark-tagging operations off this remote reef.
No one was injured, and the rigid-hulled inflatable was damaged but not disabled.
The shark, measured by marine biologists at 15 feet long, had been hooked on a research longline. Biologists under the guidance of shark researcher Carl Meyer of the University of Hawai'i's Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology had hauled the huge animal alongside the 25-foot boat and tied a loop around its tail to help control it.
With a 3 1/2-inch hook still in its mouth, the animal twisted its body 90 degrees, opened its great jaw and bit down repeatedly on the boat's black rubrail and orange fabric floatation chamber.
It ripped a dinner-plate-sized chunk out of the rubrail before researchers were able to pass ropes around its body to provide additional control. The team grabbed fins and tail to turn the shark belly-up, a position in which sharks become calm and easier to control.
Still, by the time it was released, the animal had bent the big fish hook almost straight.
The shark was released after being fitted with external satellite tags and an internal acoustic transmitter, the latter slipped into its abdomen through a 1-inch incision that was stitched closed.
The satellite tags will report location and other data to orbiting satellites. An array of sonic receivers has been established along the entire 1,400-mile Hawaiian archipelago, and through the acoustic transmitters will detect the movement patterns of dozens of sharks and other top predators tagged during this and previous missions.
The female tiger shark was the largest tagged thus far during the 25-day scientific cruise to Nihoa, French Frigate Shoals, Gardner Pinnacles and Johnston Atoll by the Hi'ialakai, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel.
Scientists and the damaged vessel's coxswain, Jason Kehn, made temporary repairs to the boat during the night, using a marine adhesive and gasket material from the ship's chief engineer's supplies.
The Hi'ialakai's chief boatswain, Mark O'Connor, said the boat, designated the HI-2, is designed as a rescue boat. It has air chambers wrapped around an aluminum hull, but they are heavily protected by fabric and foam, and the shark did not puncture any of the air chambers.
The HI-2 was back in the water conducting shark tagging operations yesterday.
Reach Jan TenBruggencate at email@example.com.