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Hennessey Part 9: West Side Story

Photo Credit: Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 international license
Aug 18 2021

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Original Articles

By Anthony Palumbi and Stephen Palumbi

The clock of her hunger ticked as she loped the northward, feeling colder the farther she moved. But there was a plan in Hennessey’s actions. This was the northern most point of her journey – the apogee of her annual trip. Here,  a different type of seal - larger, slower, in colder water - hauled out near a broad, large hook of rocky land. A place she could hope to feed. Maybe the last chance before the pups inside her were damaged by hunger.

Arriving at the seal’s rookery, she followed ancient protocol carved into her behavior, and circled to find whatever other sharks might be there, swimming on the surface toward the rocks, boldly announcing her presence in the social space of this hunting ground. She had never been so brazen before. Immediately there was a second shark behind her. Bigger than she, it followed her every movement, each turn and diversion, as she swam towards the seal colony. It was a body length behind, then a half length. When it nearly overtook her and yawned its gaping mouth, she bolted.

She resumed circling, and a second huge animal headed directly toward her. As they came closer to one another the other shark sped up, a collision course. It was powering toward her with a churning noise of thrashing water, not veering.  At the very last instant, Hennessey dove. Avoiding a crash of gristle and fins, avoiding a tangle of teeth, the smallest ones hers.

All morning she swam the complex dance of dominance. She gave ground more than not, but not always. Once, a male dropped down towards her from the surface while she was near the bottom, and sinuously swam just above her for ten tail beats. She had done this dance before, when she had sought the male she needed to fertilize her eggs. Now she was exhausted by hunger and motherhood and dismissed him.

She circled smoothly, trying not to let her hunger take control, trying to let her predator’s caution not be overruled. She saw more than one success, the seal blood and the distant splashing lighting her senses on fire with the iron smell of mammal.

Suddenly, her chance came. A large seal careened foolishly towards her. It was no easy target, and rocketed off in a new direction, streaking for the rocks. Rocks that were too far away, Hennessey knew! She flipped her great tail to hotly pursue it, dropped her depth and sped up to track it from below. There were no other competitors nearby. Her predator’s brain could calculate her best attack, and she slipped, with certainty, into perfect position.

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