It had been twelve days since the lake had been closed and no progress had been made in finding the shark. Sheriff Piccolo had organized men in large power boats to patrol from sun up to sunset, but the shark hadn’t been spotted anywhere.
His patrol teams were made up of men from his office along with members of the Arrowhead Lake Authority all armed with twelve gauge shotguns and twenty two caliber rifles. The lake had been divided into patrol sections. Designated boats were responsible for each section and filed reports at sundown.
Yesterday the boats had dropped bait consisting of sunnies and other small fish but the shark hadn’t gone for it. After another unsuccessful day on the water Piccolo knew it couldn’t attack again that readily with the lake closed. He also recognized that some research was needed. They didn’t know enough about sharks, their habits or how the hell one could survive in fresh water. In their desperation to find it quickly, they had gone off half cocked without enough information.
Piccolo did some quick searching on the internet and located a marine biologist in Florida who was considered an expert on sharks. A conference call was set up in Piccolo’s office so Roy Tillitson could participate in the conversation.
The biologist, Frank McCloskey, said he had seen television reports about the shark and had read about it in the newspapers. He had found it very interesting that a shark had gotten into a fresh water lake fifty miles from salt water with no natural way of entering it. (Piccolo had explained the filtering system at Norton’s power plant.)
“Well it’s more than interesting to us,” Piccolo replied, “because two people have been very badly injured by this shark and we need to find it.”
“Of course,” McCloskey said sounding somewhat embarrassed. “I only meant interesting in a scientific sense, because what’s happened here is highly unusual if not impossible.”
“We’re hoping you might have some ideas that might help us,” Tillitson said optimistically. “You have to understand that we don’t know much about sharks at all except that they live in salt water and not a lake.”
“Maybe that’s where I should begin then,” McCloskey replied, “ why sharks are found in salt water.”
“Makes sense,” Piccolo said.
“To begin with, sharks like all living things need great quantities of water passing through their systems in order to survive. They need higher quantities of salt in their bodies than other fish and find it in seawater that contains three to four percent salt. The living tissue of human beings and most fishes are considerably less salty than this. As a result there is more fresh water inside the human or fish than outside in the sea. In response, water naturally diffuses from the body across the skin, as though attempting to dilute the outside sea. Human skin is relatively water-tight, but fish skin is leaky, so the bodies of most marine fish are constantly losing fresh water to the surrounding sea. But all living things need a supply of water inside their bodies to function properly. What most fishes do to restore the water their bodies need is drink lots of seawater. You’ve heard the expression “Drinks like a fish.” Well it’s true, marine fishes drink seawater almost constantly. In order to get rid of the excess salt contained in it, many fishes have specialized salt-secreting structures in their gills called “chloride cells.”
“But sharks are different than other marine fish. Instead of being less salty than the sea, sharks store certain metabolic wastes namely trimethylamine oxide or what we call TMAO. So their overall saltiness is slightly greater than the sea. Because of that sharks do not continually lose their bodily supply of freshwater to the sea. Instead any fresh water needed diffuses gently into their bodies through the mouth, gills, and other exposed membranes. Any excess water in a shark’s body is filtered by the kidneys and excreted out an opening called the “cloaca” located between the pelvic fins. It’s a very elegant solution to a significant environmental challenge. But it has its limitations.”
Piccolo was almost afraid to ask why. This was all getting too technical for him, but he needed to know more. “So what are the limitations?’ he asked.
“If a shark were to swim its very “salty” body into fresh water,” McCloskey continued, “so much fresh water would diffuse into its skin that the kidneys would have to work overtime to get rid of it all. That’s why sharks don't venture into fresh water. It’s too much effort to excrete all that freshwater and potentially dangerous to their internal systems.
“However some sharks, such as the Bull Shark are able to enter fresh water for prolonged periods. They achieve this neat trick by greatly reducing their bodily concentrations of urea. Even so, a bull shark in fresh water is slightly saltier that the surrounding environment, so it must continually excrete excess water in the form of dilute urine. But from what we know, they can survive in fresh water for some time. Exactly how long, we don’t know for sure.”
“Well how long is important,” Tillitson said. “If this thing is eventually going to need salt water to survive, we can just keep the lake closed and wait for it to die.”
“I don’t think it will die from lack of salt water. At least not soon,” McClosky said reluctantly. “The Bull’s internal system is unique. It may be inconvenient for it to excrete the added urine, but it can do it. Again, for how long no one knows for sure. Tests have never been done.” McClosky paused for a moment and then asked, “Are you sure it’s a Bull Shark?”
“The description we got from one victim’s father and brother fit that of a Bull, wide snout, breathing holes on either side, set back eyes,” Piccolo replied.
“That describes it. How big?”
“Seven feet or better.”
Piccolo and Tillitson heard McClosky’s low whistle come through the speaker phone.
“That’s a big one guys, a real big one.” He hesitated for a moment and then said,” but from what you described earlier it couldn’t have gotten into the lake from the river because of filters in the utility plant.”
“Exactly,” Tillitson said.
“And there’s no other access to the lake?”
“Just streams,” Piccolo said. “Nothing a seven foot shark could come down.”
McClosky was silent for a moment causing Piccolo and Tillitson to wonder if he had run out of ideas. Both had been hoping this conversation would lead to something they hadn’t thought about, and suddenly it did.
“There’s one other way a shark could have gotten into the lake,” he said cautiously. “It’s highly unlikely though.”
“What’s that?” Piccolo asked.
“It could have been brought in from the outside. Transported in. Carefully taken from its salt water environment and delivered to the lake.”
“Is that possible?” Tillitson asked.
“It’s only been done very recently with larger sharks. But only from one salt water enviornment to another. Never salt water to fresh water. The longest trip I know of was a six hour one from New Orleans to an aquarium in Pensacola, Florida. But it’s a very delicate proposition. The shark has to be carefully prepared for the trip, transported in a specially designed tank and monitored by technicians enroute. Then the introduction to its new environment carefully watched for a period of time.”
“But it was done,” Piccolo said. “At least from salt water to saltwater.” This was completely new information for him, something he had never thought possible. Once he had seen Norton’s screening grids at the power plant, it had eliminated the possibility of the shark coming from the river. The thought of someone putting it into the lake was something he hadn’t considered
“Yes, but like I said transporting is a very precarious undertaking,” McClosky said cautiously. “The shark I’m talking about was smaller than what you describe. Upon capture it had to be held for twenty four hours in a round fiberglass tank with seawater circulated through it. The shark had to be immobilized with drugs. Then it had to be transported in a tank container equipped with pumps to circulate seawater at the proper temperature. When it arrived at the site, in this case an aquarium, the shark was given drugs to acclimate it over a period of time to its new environment; which was salt water in an aquarium tank.”
“But is it possible to transport a large shark and acclimate it to fresh water?” Piccolo asked.
“I don’t know is the honest answer, sheriff. Transporting a large shark from salt water to salt water is tough enough. To try and deliver it to fresh water and have it survive the transition is an unknown. Can it be done? I don’t think it’s ever been tried. There’s never been a need for it.”
He paused for a moment and then added, “however if it was a Bull Shark with its fresh water capability it might…and I say cautiously might be able to survive. It would be an interesting experiment, but like I said, for what reason?”
“Well in our case to attack people in a lake,” Tillitson said. He knew it was a sarcastic comment, but nevertheless an accurate one.
“I’m afraid I can’t help you with motive gentlemen. That’s out of my expertise.”
“It might be helpful though to give us the names of companies involved in transporting sharks. People that have the tank trucks and equipment to do it,” Piccolo said.
“That’s easy,” McClosky replied, happy that he could at least give some concrete information. “There are only two and one is near you.” He paused for a moment and Piccolo could hear him shuffling through papers. “One is in Falls River, Massachusetts and the other in Orlando, Florida.” He gave the names and Piccolo wrote them down.
McClosky wished them luck and offered any additional help they might need. They thanked him and Piccolo hung up the phone.
He swung his chair around to face Tillitson. In their three years together he had always found Roy to be an excellent sounding board. While he tended to be the off the wall guy offering up the “thinking outside the box” ideas as he called them, Roy was the grounded guy who kept him in the world of reality.
Physically they were entirely different. Tillitson was six four, his head shaven with a small silver earring in each ear. Fastidious down to the smallest detail, his uniform shirts were pressed and cut to fit tightly to his body. He carried himself ramrod straight.
Piccolo, was just under six feet with a more relaxed manner. His good looks were a contrast to Tillitson’s stark features and prompted some of the female deputies to refer to them as Mr. Hunk and Mr. Clean.
“So what do you make of all that?” Piccolo asked his partner.
“Three things,” Tillitson said immediately. “One…a Bull Nose shark is capable of living in fresh water for an extended period of time. Two…a shark could have been transported into the lake…although it’s never been done from salt water to fresh water.”
“And the third?” Piccolo asked.
“That whoever is behind this… and someone has to be behind it… is a very rich man.”
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt: Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com.