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Shark Wranglers, 'Thank God no one is dead'

Paula Duffy's picture

When mission leader Chris Fischer learned of the accident aboard the OCEARCH while he was ashore, he realized one of his crew could have died while performing a risky maneuver that had nothing to do with great white sharks.

When viewers of Shark Wranglers last saw the crew one member looked to be falling overboard with part of the anchor cable aimed for his head. During the opening scene of this week's "Shark Alley" fans of the show learned his fate.

Problems with the anchor and its gear box required the crew to cut the steel anchor cable. When the tension was broken, part of the cable aboard the ship flew through the air straight at Denny Wagner. Read about last week's adventures, here.

Chief Engineer Denny Wagner, a grizzled veteran of many a fishing expedition in rough seas was lucky to have sustained a bruised forearm and nothing more. The flying object came within inches of his head.

Wagner also lucked out because a crew member prevented him from tumbling into the rough seas. Thinking he suffered a broken arm, Denny was happy to learn that he had not fractured anything in the scary incident after coming ashore to get X-Rays.

Denny had warned everyone else to get out of the way and left himself exposed. In hindsight he realized it was a big mistake. "It's ain't the sharks that will bite you around here, it's the boat. It's always the boat," a crew member remarked as they recounted the story for Fischer.

In the meantime, there are only 19 days left in their 40 day permit schedule to catch, tag and release 50 great white sharks for research purposes and they still need 24. Read about the mission and how they tag the sharks, here.

After retrieving the anchor and cable they left in the water the OCEARCH took off for an area that skipper Brett McBride considers the "sharkiest" waters on earth. Gansbaai, South Africa a/k/a Shark Alley at the southern tip of the country is where they land after a two day journey.

It is a controversial place for the OCEARCH to put down anchor. Local cage divers argue that the ship's fishing methods hurt them. As a consequence, a 48-hour limit was imposed on their time there.

Fischer is notified by South African security team members of another group that could be problematic. Local villagers break the law by swimming unprotected among great whites to gather valuable mollusks for which Asian businesses traffic illegally. Up to $2,000 a pound is paid for valuable abalone on the black market.

Could the OCEARCH team use the locals to get valuable information about smuggling operations? The team certainly tries, speaking with one man who takes Fischer to a diving area where he risks his life to get abalone to make a living via this illegal means.

On an average day, viewers are told, a poacher can make 100 times the average daily wage in South Africa. There are no jobs, the poacher says and that is why he risks his life.

On the first day in Gansbaai, South Africa the team hooked a 12-foot male great white and a 14-foot female Both were mature, with the female clearly of breeding size and age. The day's work was considered the high point of the expedition thus far.

Tracking the breeding and nursing grounds is one of the OCEARCH's primary goals. In an effort to protect the species, they need data to find them and understand their habits. While they need females to round out the study, it is the males that provide more data.

Unfortunately there are times when their tagging process goes awry and they lose a shark. That happened early in the mission when a shark nicknamed Maya could not recover after being released back to the ocean. Read: Crew tries to recover after loss of Maya.

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History Channel airs new episodes of Shark Wranglers on Sunday nights. Image: Wikipedia

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