The Word on the Week

Basking Sharks

It is many years since the peace loving Basking Shark came to mind but there in today’s newspaper the species gets two whole columns to itself.   What prompted the article was not their presence but their relative absence from our waters.

In the middle of the 20th century they were to be seen off the Aberdeenshire coast.   At that time, I was involved in line fishing approx. 6 miles off-shore opposite a line of rock known as the Scars of Cruden.   During the summer holidays we could go fishing in a 24 foot half decked ‘Yole’ (a sailing boat converted to diesel with a twin cylinder engine).   My neighbour, the boat owner, his two sons and myself were the crew.

In those days, before purse netting, the fishing was good and inshore fishermen could make a living.   They operated out of small coastal villages, each with its harbour and small ‘fleet’ of boats.    The lines were 500 metres long and they had hooks at metre intervals.    These were usually baited with lugworm and set just before the turn of the tide.    The fish feed mainly during the half hour of slack water so lifting the line took place after this period of ‘tiding’. 

It was then when we had time to observe things that we would see the fin of a basking shark.   They were different from the porpoise whose fin described a cart wheel, the shark’s fin was a small triangle.   If there was a shoal, we would sustain some line damage – perhaps 6 consecutive hooks (presumably with their fish) would be missing.     The Basking Shark supposedly eat only plankton but I expect many things are scooped up by its wide mouth!

The most exciting times were when we were finished fishing and heading home.   We would occasionally be accompanied, for a short time, by a few of these fish.   They were not the 33 foot monsters that they get on the West coast but as they swam parallel to the boat, but 6 feet below us, they measured the length of the boat.   Fortunately, none were sufficiently curious to take a closer look!

This was our Leviathan.   Always representing a powerful monster that conquers man but can be handled by God.   “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?   Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?” (Job Chapter 41 verses 1 and 2).   “In that day the LORD with his fierce and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, he will slay the dragon that is in the sea” (Isaiah Chapter 27 verse 1).   

The only other power like it on earth is inside us.   And the only One who can handle it is the Lord –  Hear St Paul “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans Chapter 7 verses 21 to 24).