The Nation's Pulse

Don’t Swim With the Seals

Sharks, blue whales, and other beach news.

By 7.9.10

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SEA ISLE, N.J. -- The big news here on the beach is about sharks, whales, stripers (stripers, the fish, not strippers), and Atlantic City's casino revenues being down for the 21st month in a row, comparing revenues to the same month a year earlier.

The shark news is that a great white, the ocean's largest predatory fish, also known as white death, was hooked a few days ago 20 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, not far from where the movie Jaws was filmed.

At 150 pounds, it was just a kid (a full-grown white weighs in at over 5,000 pounds), but plenty big enough to take off an arm or a foot-full of toes.

It was landed and tagged by the crew of Sweet Dream III, a Gloucester-based tuna boat, and released about 270 miles up the beach from us -- or 11 hours away if the toothy killer decided to head straight our way at the white's top speed of some 25 miles per hour.

A shark expert on TV said that sightings of great whites have increased because of growing seal populations. He recommended that we should avoid swimming with seals.

The big whale news is that we didn't know all these years that blue whales, the largest animals that have ever roamed the Earth, are regularly cruising past our beach. At a grown-up weight of 330,000 pounds, they make the largest great white look like a minnie.

The blue whales were discovered off Jersey's coast via oceanic eavesdropping by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, by way of a network of underwater hydrophones that pick up noises at frequencies too low to be heard by the human ear, the Press of Atlantic City reported last week.

The local Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center explains that "the tongue of a blue whale weighs as much as an elephant" and that "blue whales grow to a weight that's six times as much as the largest dinosaur." You can take an ocean ride with these folks from the Center and get a rain check if you don't see something big.

In Sea Isle, the old salts have been catching my wife's favorite fish for dinner, striped bass. On the endangered list for years, there's a commercial fishing ban in Jersey on stripers. You can't buy them. We knew our only option was our son Jimmy, the top fisherman in the family. After some mild prodding at the beach, he decided to show his girls how it's done. Over the dunes, to the house, he got his rod, returned and ran waist-deep into the surf. On his 10th cast along a rock jetty, he hooked a big one, yelling "Get the net!" -- a white flash in the blue water, a beautiful nine-pound, 29" striper broke the ocean's surface and ran off the spool of line twice before he was landed.

On the business front, the big news is that Atlantic City's 11 casinos, the nation's second-largest gambling market, saw their collective revenues fall by 9 percent in May, compared with a year ago. And that's before Philadelphia opens its own big casino and begins offering table games in its slots parlors.

Some of the local tourism experts are saying it's time to focus on the ocean again as the city's biggest asset. More sand castles and less poker.

Other than that, things are good --- no tar balls and the drivers of the beer trucks have been near-perfect in swerving around the turtles that are trying to cross Ocean Drive to lay their eggs.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.