THE SHALLOWS OF MILL COVE, FORE RIVER, WEYMOUTH

For a generation traumatized by JAWS, it’s truly a nightmare come true: Aggressive great white sharks have invaded the beaches of our beloved Cape Cod,. No doubt the summer of 2018 will be remembered as the summer of the great white shark, the summer  that it all changed. When we in masses grew from complacent to weary when it came to our fear of sharks. Those Massachusetts children like myself PJT (Post Jaws Trauma) have been told our entire lives that our fears were unfounded. That JAWS was JUST a movie. TIme and time again I would be schooled on how great white sharks don’t like the cold water of the Atlantic. That it was just fiction. Period.


As summer heated up, so did the shark activity with incident after incident reported and often recorded via beachgoers' cell phones. First, an enormous great white was caught on a drone trailing an unsuspecting paddle boarder at the end of July in Orleans. The following week a great white leaded out of the water at a researcher from the Atlantic White Shark Conservatory, making international headlines. It would only get more intense when Provincetown beachgoers were horrified when a great white initiated a seal just feet from the sand. “Out of the water! Out of the water,” one woman screamed to swimmers. Scenes from “JAWS” began to unintentionally play out.


The close encounters ended on August 15th, when the inevitable happened: a New York man vacationing in Truro was attacked by a great white. William Lytton survived the attack by slamming the beast in the gills. Hard. So hard he tore the tendons of his punching arm. Lytton reported that in his fight or flight moment of terror, a memory was triggered from what he guessed was he must have picked up on while watching a docudrama about sharks: A shark’s gill were one of its most vulnerable parts.


“I initially was terrified, but, really, there was no time to think. It doesn’t feel like I did anything heroic. A lot of this was luck,’’ Lytton told the Associated Press. Exactly one month later to the day, September 15th, there would be another shark attack. This time, the victim would not be so lucky. In a tragedy many say was only a matter of time, 26-year old Revere man was boogie boarding with a friend in Wellfeet when he savagely attacked by a great white and died almost immediately. The death of Arthur Medici prompted closing of all area beaches for swimming until further notice.


Medici’s death would be the first human shark fatality in Massachusetts in eight decades. The last shark attack fatality occurred on Saturday, July 25, 1936. The victim was a 16-year old vacationing Dorchester boy, Joseph Troy, who was swimming about 50-yards offshore between West Island and Mattapoisett Neck in Buzzards Bay when a presumed great white shark took him and pulled him beneath the depths of the bay. Troy was reportedly swimming a front crawl stroke, causing large splashes in his wake, an action sharks can confuse with the motion of seals.


In an account written by world famous ichthyologist Eugene Willis Gudger about the tragedy, Gudger reported. “Suddenly and without warning, a shark coming from under water appeared at Troy’s left side and turning somewhat belly up, laid hold of the lad’s left leg and carried him under the water before he could even give any outcry."


Joseph Troy’s mangled body appeared moments later in a pool of blood. Beachgoers assisted in the horrific scene to try to get the boy to safety. He succumbed to his major injuries that night and was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford


The tragedy took New England by storm. Shortly after the attack, a fisherman in the same waters reported a 17-foot long shark attacking his boat. The coast guard organized a hunt for the shark, harpoons and machine guns at the ready. The coast guard tracked a large “maneating” shark in Fall River, but there was no comprehensive evidence that it was the same shark who attacked Joseph Troy.


Only two weeks later another much lesser known shark encounter would occur. And in an even more shocking place: The Fore River in Weymouth. With the death of the Dorchester boy still fresh in people’s minds, the following incident must have been truly horrifying for those involved. On August 11, 1936, a day of swimming and rafting on the Fore River turned to terror when four boys were stranded after an enormous shark circled their raft, then settled itself between them and the shore.

Herbert Crawford saw the shark and the trapped boys from his house on Wachusett Road and heroically sprang into action. His brother James was over that evening. Herbert called to him and pointed out to the cove. The brothers immediately revved up their outward motorboat and out the kill the shark. Or at least get it to move out of the cove.


The hunt lasted nearly thirty minutes. The two courageous brothers, successfully gaining a close enough approach to the shark, attempted to stab it with a boat hook. Their efforts failed however, as the hook failed to even pierce the skin. Next, the two brothers returned with with a rifle. Upon firing at it, the shark went down the bottom of the river only to pierce the surface again with its enormous fin about 20-feet ahead from the spot it went down. The giant fin then disappeared and the shark vanished from sight. And was presumably never seen again in the Fore River. The boys were rescued by their parents who rushed out to the scene in rowboats.


The scale of the shark was enormous, according to Herbert and James Crawford, who, able to get within a foot of the animal, had a clear view. “Although the Crawford brothers were able to steer their motorboat close beside the shark several times, neither of them caught sight of the entire length of the shark. Herbert Crawford said all he saw were the fins. He said the back fin was from five to seven feet long and the tail fin was about a foot long,” The Boston Globe reported.

Bull sharks are the most common shark to travel up rivers, but given the size of the Fore River shark, experts discounted that possibility.The Fore River shark encounter was an extraordinarily rare event. For a shark even to be seen in the ocean in Weymouth rare. Harbormaster Paul Milone confirmed, “Hopefully, I can say with confidence that shark sightings in Weymouth are uncommon… That’s not to say it’s impossible. I would never say never.”

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