March 18, 1942 found the U.S. oil tanker Papoose 18 miles south of Cape
Lookout. Late that evening a German torpedo struck the Papoose on the left
side, killing two of the 34 crewmembers. The ship was evacuated just
before a second torpedo exploded on the right side of the ship. The Papoose
rolled over, but took several hours to sink. While the 32 survivors made
their way to shore in a liferaft, they were guided by the flames of the W.E.
Hutton. The W.E. Hutton, another U.S. oil tanker was torpedoed about an
hour after the Papoose was attacked. The 32 survivors were picked up early
the next morning and taken to Norfolk, VA by the U.S.S. Stringham.
Today the Papoose rests upside-down in 125 feet of water 34 miles South
East of Beaufort inlet. The visibility on this wreck is usually phenomenal
due to its vicinity to the Gulf Stream. On average visibility ranges from
75-150 feet, and the water temperature is usually in the lower 80's. Due
to the depth and possibility of strong currents on this wreck, divers
should have a bit of deep diving experience.
Now for the reason most of you started reading this article, the sharks.
For the past couple of years the Papoose has been known for its number
of sand tiger sharks. On any given day divers are treated to between 10-25
sand tiger sharks circling the wreck. This wreck is quickly becoming a
favorite of North Carolina divers because of the opportunity to see a
shark. Some divers pay big bucks, and travel hundreds of miles for the
chance to dive with sharks in the Caribbean. We are lucky enough to have
our own shark dive right here in our own back yard.
The sand tigers that populate themselves around the Papoose are very
menacing looking creatures. Their average size is between 6.5 - 9.5 feet.
What a person notices first are the rows of sharp, jagged teeth that
protrude from their mouth. The sharks also swim with their mouths open
almost all of the time, this produces what is known as the "sand tigers
grin". The teeth are fairly small and are not for tearing flesh, but for
catching fish, which are then swallowed whole. The sand tiger shark is
not considered to be particularly dangerous to humans, and there are no
reports of unprovoked attacks, but they may react if provoked. There may
also be some trouble if divers try to spearfish on this wreck, but once
the Captain tells the divers how many sharks are around, I've never seen
anyone compelled to take a spear in the water.
The shark is a beautiful and majestic work of art. At the rate humans
are killing them, future divers will only be able to see sharks in
misguided movies like Jaws or in books and paintings. People always ask
me "Oh, you dive? Aren't you afraid of sharks?" I tell them, yes I dive,
and no I'm not scarred of sharks. Humans aren't part of the sharks natural
food chain. Almost all shark attacks on people are made because of
mistaken identity, i.e. a surfer looking like a sea otter or sea lion.
Sharks attributed to 11 deaths worldwide in 1995. Humans killed over
300,000,000 sharks that year, possibly more, but there is no way to
account for all of the sharks that were killed and wasted due to by-catch
in gill and trawl nets. Sometimes sharks are killed for little more than
their fins or to say "I killed a shark". There may be people reading this
that think this is a good thing, that sharks are man killers. If we take
a look at facts from The American Medical Association's Encyclopedia of
Medicine, bee's kill 75 people in the U.S. alone each year. William C.
Burns did a report called Stopping the Feeding Frenzy: How Can We Save
the Shark? He writes that elephants kill approximately 250 people per
year and crocodiles killed the same number of people last year as sharks
have in the past 100 years. The odds of being killed by lightning are
one in almost 2 million; by a bee sting one in 5.5 million; by falling
airplane parts, one in 10 million. The odds of being killed by shark
attack: one in 300 million.
Sharks are the apex predators of the sea, which means they are at the
top of the food chain, it also means they breed very slowly. One or
two young for a gestation period of nine months to two years. Sharks
are not reproducing as fast or even equal to the rate we are killing
A couple weeks ago I was fishing on a pier and caught a small
shark called a dogfish. A gentleman came over and said "Split his
belly and throw him back, he'll never bite on your hook again."
It's this sort of mentality that is destroying the shark population.
Now I'm not telling anyone to go out and hug a shark, you would
probably get bitten and that would be counterproductive to the cause.
All I'm trying to do is raise the awareness that shark populations of
the world are being depleted. If you would like more information about
desperate state of sharks in the world today, you can contact the Center
for Marine Conservation in Washington D.C. at (202)-429-5609, ask for the
1997 shark fact sheet.
The sand tiger shark is sought after by sport fishermen for their
vicious looking jaws. However, according to the U.S. Atlantic Shark
Plan, the sand tiger is now a protected species. According to the
National Marine Fisheries, anyone caught killing a sand tiger shark
could face a fine of up to $100,000.00. The law, adopted in April of
this year is a step in the right direction for the sand tiger sharks
here on the crystal coast.
I know of people that have over 100 dives who haven't seen a shark yet.
If your a diver who's never seen a shark, or even one who's seen hundreds,
this wreck is the perfect chance to view these breathtaking animals. Until
next week, "Just Dive It."