The Tourist & the Shark

Leonard Lea Frazer

From the Prince George Citizen’s Weekend PLUS Magazine - Jan.15, 1994

“Leonard Frazer’s excursion into the native culture of Fiji becomes uncomfortably real as he and a native friend wrestle a 300-pound hammerhead shark into their small canoe."

My best South Seas fish story concerns the day I helped catch a ten-foot, six-inch hammerhead shark with my bare hands.

I woke at 9 a.m. from an after-breakfast nap to the sound of someone calling, “Big fish! Big fish! Come quickly!” After staggering to the door of my coconut log bungalow I looked out into the bright sunlight.

The tide was in, and I was being asked to assist my friend Peni, to check out the “big fish” caught in the net.

Earlier, I had helped a local Fijian lady, Matilda, set up a long line of fishing nets in front of the village. Any fish caught would become a gift or “sevu sevu” to bring to a feast at Matilda's father's village.

Now, with my camera and a three-pronged spear I ran with Peni to the beach. Soon we were gliding over the clear water of the lagoon in a small rowboat with a barracuda painted on its sides. We discovered the shark wrapped in the submerged nylon net. The following is an account, from my travel diary, of how we managed to get the 300-pound shark into our small boat.

‘Peni started pulling on the net. The shark was very much alive and still moving in the water. (It would save up its energy and then suddenly thrash its big tail). Peni grabbed one of the shark’s hammer (head) ends and I held the other and together we got the head in the boat.

Then, I held the head like the horns of a bull (with both hands and arms) while Peni pulled the tail in. The boat, in the meantime, was almost ready to capsize from the weighted side.

We kept struggling to get the middle part of the shark into the boat by pulling the net but were unable. So, I stepped on the tail with both my feet and continued to hold the head with my hands and arms and Peni jumped into the water, which was up to his chest, and, after several tries, heaved the shark's body into the boat.’

So, there I was stretched out in the bottom of the boat, lying side by side with a live shark, with only a thin net separating us. At this point I stood up to take a photo of the hammerhead.

As I focused in on the “big guy” I realized that my hands and body were shaking (the shark was dead soon after I took my photographs).

The shark meat was later boiled and smoked, in large chunks, and taken to the big feast the following day.”

Additional notes: I remember when Peni and I were bringing the boat in with the shark, the tide was on its way out. A few villagers greeted our arrival with much ceremony. They had large biscuit tins and were beating on them like drums and cheering us on like we were finishing a race or something. The expressions on their faces were of disbelief and amazement. My father, Leagh Frazer, was also in the group and wasted no time in helping tip the shark out of the boat. He proceeded to cut open its belly, spilling the internal organs onto the beach. Due to the size of fish the procedure reminded me of gutting a moose back in British Columbia.

Conclusion: An important tip or “rule of thumb” when not wanting to encounter a shark in salt water: Sharks dislike swimming in shallow water. The best time to go swimming, snorkelling, and exploring a shallow reef is when the tide is going out or is already out.  Remember, when the tide is coming in, the little fish follow the plankton, the small fish follow the little fish and the big fish follow the small fish. Everyone comes in with the tide and so should you!

In Fiji, I have enjoyed filming, photographing, and tasting a variety of seafood. The small tropical fish all come in exotic colours and crayfish resemble Atlantic Lobster in taste, but are different in appearance. Octopi are also caught for food by some of the local natives. Each village has a “pet fish” which means that, if your village pet fish is, for example, flying fish, then you are not allowed to eat that type of fish. If a Fijian accidentally catches one of their pet fish he or she will either return the fish to the ocean or give it to someone from a different village. 

Deb Frazer fishing on a Fijian reef with the barracuda boat in the background.
Deb Frazer fishing on a Fijian reef with the barracuda boat in the background.
 
Peni taking jabs at the shark with his three-pronged bamboo spear.
Peni taking jabs at the shark with his three-pronged bamboo spear.
 

Freshly cooked crayfish.
Freshly cooked crayfish.
 
The hammerhead shark in the bottom of our boat.
The hammerhead shark in the bottom of our boat.
 

Cutting open the shark.
Cutting open the shark.
 
Fish caught at the reef.
Fish caught at the reef.
 

My Fijian friend Peni with the shark.
My Fijian friend Peni with the shark.
 
Freshly caught crayfish.
Freshly caught crayfish.