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Hennessey Part 3: Test Bite

Photo credit: Cropped. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0
Aug 18 2021

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Original Articles

By Anthony Palumbi and Stephen Palumbi


She shadowed the object with ancient caution and a fencer’s grace. Lifting her right fin, she swung minutely to her left, passing it, sensing it.  A mammalian scent lit up her hunter’s brain. She pirouetted to the right, spinning back around for another questing pass.  The patience of motherhood tempered her approach—looking for certainty before committing to action.

Another pass. Her brain organized everything into two fundamental categories: prey and not-prey.  Attack or ignore. The oddity she circled challenged that simplicity. Neither fish, nor seal, nor whale.

With every lap the great fish tightened her loop, spiraling in at last, close enough to touch it, to brush it and power away. She went back to looping again, evaluating, but still not certain. Rivetted by the mammal scent, she spiraled back in. She made another pass. Decided. Turned her head daintily in order to bite carefully, nimbly, and to finally classify this object. Prey or not prey?

She extended her jaws so that the teeth flexed out toward the mystery. Not to bite with full commitment, not even hard: she saw no need for anything but a test bite.  Her jaws could macerate turtle shells and splinter the bones of the largest whales but for this she needed the tiniest puncture.

As she tensed for the bite, an alarm flashed in her brain. This prey had already been attacked and was tumbling in its death. She could smell the old blood and mammalian fluids leaking from it, from crushing damage to its head. She wheeled away, instantly searching the dark water for her competitor. Her kind was solitary – she hunted alone -  and she had rules of engagement for when she encountered her kin, specific rules of dominance and social power.

She wheeled away, carelessly leaving the body in a tumble of ripped tissues and powerful somersault currents, creating a deep thumping fountain of water as she dove quickly, already targeting the next hunt, the next prey.

The prey was worthless.

It was human. It was skinny. It was bony. It was already dead.


Shark researcher Kinney Austin refused to believe it. “No way a white shark that size was in tiny Hampton Bay,” she insisted to her phone as it displayed story after story about the shark attack death of Jamie Brinson. She was coming back to the dock on her sleek, fast research boat after tagging sharks with all day – placing satellite transmitters on their dorsal fins so they could be tracked. She could see the train of tweets and posts and re-posts spreading the lie that Jamie Brinson was attacked by a shark – the fact-less story had magnified far, far across social media. The only evidence of a large shark was a gigantic tail flip offshore, but that shark had never come into the Bay. No, the real driver of the shark lie was a growing fear of the increasing shark abundance near Seal Rocks.

Kinney could already hear an intensified pitch on social media – a harsh militant cry to cull all the sharks. Killing the largest of all the species. And she knew this trouble was coming to the doorstop of her little town by the increased number of large, new shiny deep sea fishing boats rumbling into the harbor. The Revenge Fleet was already arriving.


To start at the beginning of Hennessey's journey, click here.