The serialisation of Eric Douglas’ short story focusing on adventurous photojournalist Mike Scott continues…
Back at the resort, Mike Scott had to endure another examination to make sure everything was all right with his arm after being bitten by the shark. The resort staff called in an American doctor who lived on the island.
Dr. Von Cardinal was an attractive woman in her early 40s with straight dark hair mixed together with highlights from the sun and early gray. She had a dark, even tan from island living.
“Mike, this should do it. It doesn’t look like any teeth got into the wound, so I’m not really worried about infection. If you notice any redness or tenderness, let someone know and we’ll get you some antibiotics,” she said with an easy smile, her hand lingering on Mike’s arm, just below the bruises. “If you need anything else from me, just let me know.”
“Thanks, Doc. I appreciate you coming over to take a look. I’ll be sure and let you know if I need anything else.”
“Your arm is going to bruise pretty badly and will be sore. Ice it down and take some pain relievers. You should be all right,” Cardinal said as she stood.
Mike finally made it back to his room and opened the camera housing to download the photos from the dive. Before he looked at them, he took the time to upload all his images to a cloud drive so he had a backup. Using island-internet, that process took a while.
Mike knew that in some parts of Asia, shark fin soup was considered a delicacy. In recent years, the process had turned industrial with fishing boats catching hundreds of sharks daily, cutting the fins from the still-living animals and throwing them back into the water to die. The Bahamas banned any sort of shark fishing in island waters in 2011, protecting what the island saw as a major revenue stream and attraction. Many other locations around the world had enacted similar laws to halt the barbaric practice. That drove some of the shark fin “fishermen” to rogue status, creating a black-market for shark fins. If there was a rogue group operating around the Bahamas, they were obviously breaking the law and Mike wanted to find them and stop them.
When Mike finally got his images backed up, he selected several that clearly showed sharks with removed fins and saved them to his tablet so he could show them around. Then he headed to the bar by the resort pool to see if he could find anyone from the film crew to talk about what he saw.
“There he is. How’s the arm, Mike?” Frazier said as Mike approached.
Frazier was older than Mike, but fit from diving nearly every day. A world-renowned underwater filmmaker, Frazier was in high demand, especially when it came to sharks. Somewhat uncommon for people who spent their time in the water and in warm climates, Frazier sported a full beard, shot through with gray. Mike knew the man hadn’t lost a step though and he was sure he couldn’t keep up with Frazier in the water if it came to that.
“I’m good, pal. Thanks for asking. Arm’s getting stiff and sore, but I’ve been hurt worse on assignment. Even hurt worse by apex predators,” Mike said with a laugh. “Two-legged and four-legged alike.”
That comment elicited laughs from the rest of the film crew and redirected the conversation into a series of stories that had everyone present spinning tales and showing scars.
When the conversation turned to another topic, Mike turned his chair so he could talk directly to Frazier.
“I know you work here a lot. You must have pretty good contacts with the locals, right?”
“Sure, Mike. I know most of the players around here. What’s up?”
“When I got bit, Dasha and I were photographing the sharks in a feeding frenzy. They were eating on several dead sharks.”
“I bet you got some incredible images from that. I’ve shot that sort of thing a couple times and it was gold. But did you say several sharks?”
“I counted five dead carcasses on the bottom and they had their fins cut off,” Mike said seriously.
“They were finned? You’re kidding. That’s against the law here,” Frazier said, his disbelief evident in his voice.
Mike showed the other man his photos as they talked about what Mike saw.
“We need to report this to the authorities and get them out searching for a black-market boat operating in these waters,” Mike said.
“I’m going to call the Bahamas Agriculture and Fisheries official who oversees fishing for this island. I’m sure he’ll want to know about this.”
“Thanks, Frazier. I came here to photograph a story on the success of the shark fishing ban. I definitely didn’t expect to see something like this.”
The next morning, Mike was surprised to get a call that the Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Howell Pettibone, was in the resort lobby waiting to see him.
“Good morning, Mr. Pettibone. Thank you for coming out this morning. I certainly didn’t expect that. I could’ve come to see you,” Mike said by way of greeting.
“It is my pleasure, Mr. Scott. I was in the neighborhood so it is no trouble. It is an honor to meet an esteemed journalist like yourself. I have seen many of the stories you have photographed,” Pettibone said with the easy smile of a career politician. “Mr. Nivens told me you had something to show me about our sharks?”
Mike quickly gave Pettibone the story from the dive while he pulled his photographs up on his tablet.
“You can clearly see here that this shark’s fins have been cut off with a knife. This edge is too clean for it to have been done by another shark,” Mike said, enlarging an image on the screen. “We saw five dead sharks all in the same condition.”
With Mike’s photographic evidence and his eyewitness account, Mike expected Pettibone would immediately jump into action, launch an investigation and demand answers.
Mike was half right.
“Mr. Scott, I am deeply disappointed here,” Pettibone began after a few moments, his face flat and expressionless.
“I’m sure these are the actions of a single bad apple. I don’t believe it has any reflection on the island itself,” Mike replied trying to console the man.
“Mr. Scott, I am not disappointed in the people of this island. I am disappointed in you. You have this made up ‘evidence’ and no further proof of what is going on. I’m sure those images have been doctored. They probably weren’t even taken here,” Pettibone said, standing and facing Mike with fire in his eyes. “What are you trying to accomplish here, Scott? Are you trying to undermine this island and the tourism here? Whom are you working for?”
“Mr. Pettibone, I’m not sure what you think, but I can assure you none of these images were ‘shopped’ and I took all of them yesterday. You can deny it all you want, but someone is finning sharks in your backyard and you need to do something about it,” Mike said, standing to tower over Pettibone with his 6’2” frame. Mike was keeping his anger in check, but he wasn’t about to back down.
“I can tell you what I am going to do about it. I am going to launch an investigation into you and have you sent home. I will not stand for this sort of behavior on my island,” Pettibone said and then turned and stalked off without another word.
Mike simply stared at the man’s retreating back.
“Well, that isn’t how I thought things would go. I didn’t expect a medal, but I thought he would take me more seriously than that,” Mike said out loud. “I sure didn’t expect to be deported….”
The resort where Mike was staying was on the West End of Grand Bahamas’ Island, out at the very tip of the spit of land. The resort had its own marina, as did several nearby properties, which catered to Americans traveling the 55 miles from Florida to visit the Bahamas and enjoy some fun in the sun, bone fishing and diving. Mike left the resort on foot, looking for a different type of marina, though. He wanted to find the marina that housed commercial fishing boats.
The Bahamas is an island country made up of more than 700 islands, cays and islets covering more than 180,000 square miles of water. That was a lot of space for a rogue ship of fishermen to hide, catch sharks and fin them before dumping them back in the water. It was impossible for the Bahamian government to patrol that much territory, even if they were looking. Since it appeared his one brush with the government so far was in total denial that shark finning could even be happening in the local waters, he was going to have dig deeper into this story on his own.
Mike reasoned that if anyone would know about a strange fishing vessel on Bahamian waters, it would be the local fishermen who plied their trade every day on the water. He didn’t want to talk to the fishing guides who ran boat charters and catered to tourists. They went to the same regular spots to catch sport fish. Mike knew a group of shark pirates on the water would avoid those locations to stay out of sight. But commercial fishermen who supplied seafood to the islands many restaurants wouldn’t be so predictable. He thought maybe they would have seen something unusual.
It was mid-morning by the time Mike found the harbor he was looking for. Typical for a working marina, it had a variety of boats in a variety of states of repair. The docks themselves were solid if spartan and sun-bleached. No one had taken the time to give them a coat of paint in quite some time.
The sun was high in the sky and it was getting hot, but a gentle Bahamian breeze kept things tolerable. Many of the fishing boats were already in for the day. They had been up since early that morning and were bringing their catch in to supply the local “Catch of the Day” at nearby restaurants.
Mike approached several boat owners and captains as he walked, but he quickly realized he was facing an uphill battle. As soon as he described the situation, the normally friendly Bahamian fishermen clammed up and walked off. They didn’t want to talk to him. Time and again, Mike’s questions were rebuffed as soon as he mentioned a rogue boat finning sharks.
By noon, Mike had tried to speak to men, and a few women, on more than 20 different commercial fishing boats and no one had seen anything. Just outside the marina entrance, Mike found a food truck set up selling conch fritters and rice and peas, fried plantains and fish. He grabbed some lunch and a cold drink to decide what he should do next. He was curious if Pettibone was going to try to follow through on his threats or if the man was bluffing. He decided to let his editor know what was going on when he got back to the resort.
“Hey big man! Wassup wit chu?” a fisherman came up and sat down at Mike’s table with a big grin. “You want some fishing, mon? I can hook you up.”
“No thanks, partner, I’m not looking for a fishing charter.”
“Maybe you looking for sometin’ else?” the man asked with a smile, showing that there were several possible answers to what he was selling.
“Nothing like that either,” Mike said watching the man carefully.
Suddenly the islander across the table lowered his voice and spoke confidentially.
“None of these men gonna tell you nothing, big man. They are all afraid,” he said, all traces of his island patois gone.
Mike sat forward and pitched his voice low as well. “Who are they afraid of?”
“They’re afraid of the men with the finning boat. If they run into them on the open water, they have guns and will use them. They’re not just afraid for themselves, but for their families, too. The man who runs everything could make it bad for them. If they take a stand, they lose.”
“Who is the man?” Mike asked.
“Naw man, we can’t do dat. You white folk are crazy. We don’ do dat,” the man said standing, his island patois back in place. “Crazy, crazy white folk.”
Mike watched the islander walk away for a minute. His warning given, the man considered their business done.
“This is getting curiouser and curiouser,” Mike said out loud, running his hand through his dark wavy hair to wipe the sweat from his brow. He often talked to himself when he was trying to work out a problem. “I thought this would be simple and straightforward. Guess it never is, though.”
TUNE IN NEXT WEDNESDAY FOR CHAPTER 3…