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FAIR GAME PETE THOMAS

Shark snack: A goat, to go

September 30, 2003|PETE THOMAS

Word of the big catch started to spread throughout southern Baja as Hurricane Marty crashed ashore in Mexico last week. Before the storm took out Internet connections, this alert went out via e-mail from Cabo San Lucas:

"Apparently a huge shark was caught by commercial shark fishermen near the East Cape region. When the fishermen came back to recover their [buoyed] lines, they were shocked to find a monster tiger shark that was over 2,000 pounds.

"Inside the shark they found a goat, probably washed into the ocean by recent storms, and two whole turtles. The liver weighed 220 pounds and the jaws, when propped open, were over 5 1/2 feet wide."

Since large sharks are rarely caught anymore in the Sea of Cortez, because of years of fishing pressure, a catch as monstrous as this one, if true, was big news -- something to talk about in the sleepy communities on the East Cape.

"Some gringos in town bought the jaws for $170, if this is the shark you are asking about," Mark Rayor, owner of Vista Sea Sport in the East Cape town of Buena Vista, wrote before losing Internet service.

Nobody expected much from Marty. Last week's storm wasn't predicted to be as strong as it turned out to be. Information was hard to come by.

Marty hammered Cabo San Lucas, killing at least three people, flooding streets and knocking down power poles. It then raged northerly along the east coast of the Baja peninsula, hitting the East Cape and La Paz even harder. In the predawn hours of Sept. 22, winds reached 100 mph in some areas. Telephone poles "snapped like toothpicks," said Rayor, who spent those morning hours huddled with his dog in the laundry room.

In La Paz, seven people were reported killed and several others were missing. Marinas were destroyed. Boats were sunk. Power outages left people with no outside communication.

After connections came back up, Gary Graham, owner of the Baja on the Fly guide service, offered his assessment of the damage: "Marina de La Paz, 120 slips, is 95% destroyed; Abaroa Marina, 40 slips, is destroyed; Marina Palmira, 117 slips, which has a big breakwater, is in excellent shape.... "

Hoteliers said their guests were fine, but some had been cut by flying glass. Toward week's end, the sportfishing fleets were back at sea, battling marlin, tuna and dorado.

Back too was talk of the shark. Photos taken by a man living in the remote El Cardonal area showed a Mexican fisherman holding open the jaws of a big shark, but it did not appear to be the colossal predator people had heard about.

Finally, a witness emerged. Don Ballentine, a retired fireman from Seattle, was on the beach with a camera when the fishermen brought in the beast and gave its ballpark weight as 1,600 pounds.

"They could only estimate the weight, as they had to gut it to be able to get it into their panga," Ballentine said in an online interview, adding that the photos show only the discarded skin and jaws of the shark. "They are very good at estimating, because they butcher and sell the meat, fins and mandibles." Ballentine confirmed that the fishermen found two sea turtles and a goat inside.

With that came an end to the story, on a day when the sun shone brightly in a calm and cloudless sky.

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