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What started as a fishing trip turned into an emergency C-section — on a spiny dogfish

  • Author: Steve Meyer
    | Alaska guns & hunting
  • Updated: 6 days ago
  • Published 6 days ago

"Christine," I hollered, "come out here quick!"

I had just walked past the 120-quart cooler as I was putting things away before I cleaned the fish. The lid was open and as I glanced inside, I saw something that didn't belong.

At first, without a better explanation, I thought the big fish had thrown up a bait herring. And then it moved.

It was one of those late May mornings, the ice-blue sky blemished sporadically with wisps of clouds that meandered through the sky with no real direction. With a slight breeze barely felt on the skin, it was the kind of day you wish for in July in Southcentral Alaska.

With some late afternoon plans we couldn't beg off from, Christine and I decided to make a quick trip out on the Cook Inlet to avoid wasting a beautiful day. We had time to make a short run out in the boat, drop some herring and fish the high slack tide for whatever might happen by.

We weren't expecting much. Perhaps a bottom-cruising king salmon would find our bait, or maybe a stray halibut. We were content just to be there.

Soon enough we had some interest, and Christine reeled in a good-sized flounder, which we released — when cooked, they tend to have a mushy consistency that neither of us like. Next was a smallish skate that came up in the typical hauling-up-a-dead-body fashion that annoys saltwater fishermen everywhere.

Then the dogfish found us. When these tenacious little sharks find your baited lines, there isn't much to do but move. A short time later, anchored in a different spot, they found us again. True to their nature, they took the hook and then rolled and swam in circles, tangling everyone with a line down. This is why anglers don't think fondly of them.

Figuring we couldn't get away from them, we fished and enjoyed the gentle roll of the swells that rocked the boat. We were releasing the dogfish until Christine brought in a rather large example of the species that was hooked in a manner that suggested it would not survive if released.

We had heard that some folks eat shark fish them but we had been reluctant to try, because they have the peculiar trait of ridding body fluid through their skin. But we weren't going to throw the fish back just to die and instead dispatched it and deposited it in the big cooler and called it a day.

By the time I walked past the cooler later that day, there were two shark pups swimming around inside it, yellowish colored sacs, the size of eggs, in tow.

"What are we suppose to do?" Christine asked.

"I don't know, let's Google them and see if we can figure it out," I said.

A quick search revealed the pups were in full term, and the sacs would nourish them until they learned to feed on their own. And there were probably a lot more inside the mom.

Well, I thought, I've attended all sorts of animal births — dogs, cats, cattle, pigs — but I had never done a C-section. Given the circumstances, there was no chance of doing more harm, so I prepared the operating table.

Fifteen shark pups were swimming around the bottom of the cooler, seemingly no worse for the wear, after a C-section was performed in May 2015. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

Preparing for the job made me think of a time when my dad was plowing a stubble field early in the morning and a hen northern pintail flushed ahead of the tractor. Dad stopped and found a nest hidden in the remains of the fall harvest. Plowing around the nest, he watched for the hen to come back, and by the end of the day, she hadn't returned. He knew she wouldn't come back and he knew the eggs were within days of hatching.

He gathered all 14 eggs and brought them home, where we made a nest in the house and put a heat lamp over them. Within a few days we watched as the little ducks pecked their way out of their oval-shaped prisons. Watching those adorable ducklings grow up that summer is one of my fondest memories.

Another time, a neighboring farmer had been cutting grass in the spring with a mower pulled behind a tractor. A whitetail fawn was hidden in the grass and jumped up at the last instant as the mower cut the little deer's hooves right off its legs. Feeling awful, the farmer could not bring himself to do what most would say had to be done. Instead he brought the fawn home, the family bandaged up her feet and fussed over her as if she were a newborn baby.

She was a tough little bugger, always seemed happy in spite of her circumstances, and by summer's end she had grown calluses where her feet were and got along just fine. She became part of the family and lived a good life for many years.

There is something inviolate about baby animals, and when faced with the opportunity to help them, you just do it, and it doesn't matter if your efforts are desirable or even wanted, it's still the right thing. At least it is to me.

With that, I placed the big female shark on the table. Doing my best impersonation of a surgeon, I carefully made an incision in her abdomen. Perhaps it was beginner's luck, but I guessed correctly and within a few minutes 15 shark pups were swimming around the bottom of the cooler, seemingly no worse for the wear.

By this time, several hours had passed since landing the female and time seemed of the essence. We loaded the cooler with the pups and headed to the ocean. The surf was pounding along the shore, so we waded out and one by one, as gently as we could, we held them under the water and hoped they would swim away. They did, all 15 of them.

Some will say we did no one any favors, that the world is better off without spiny dogfish. But I gotta tell you, we slept pretty good that night.

Steve Meyer of Soldotna is a lifelong Alaskan and an avid shooter. He writes every other week about guns and Alaska hunting. Contact Steve at oldduckhunter@outlook.com.

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