- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

A brief item in the International Angler, the bimonthly voice of the International Game Fish Association, mentioned how a whale researcher, Mark Ferrari, was speared by a marlin not long ago. It happened while Ferrari was filming an attack by false killer whales off the coast of Maui. He underwent surgery for a deep wound through his right shoulder.

Ferrari, 52, was in Maui researching humpback whales (something he’s done for 28 years) when he saw a pod of false killer whales surrounding a victim. The “killers” actually are dolphins, and they were in the process of attacking the 15-foot-long marlin. Ferrari’s wife, Debbie, later said, “The marlin was being attacked, and it was going at whatever was there. Mark happened to be in the wrong place.”

That was a bit of an understatement because he had to be really close to the great fish when it lashed out and speared him. Despite his injury and terrific pain, Ferrari managed to videotape the entire incident for the Center for Whale Studies.

The incident started me thinking about real — and perceived — dangers I’ve faced in a life that has been spent mostly in the outdoors.

There was the time on Cape Hatteras, along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, when I fished in the surf with my friend Jim Blum, and the two of us felt something brushing hard against our wader-covered legs. In the excitement of hooking big bluefish and a few Spanish mackerel, we didn’t pay much attention. But when it happened again and again, we took a better look and spotted two large sharks cruising in the chest-high water.

They were adult lemon sharks of about eight to 10 feet. The sharks apparently were drawn to the frantic fishing scene by the surf anglers’ bleeding bait, which was cast out as far as possible, then slowly reeled in. The sharks simply followed the fresh scent and subsequently the food.

Yes, the two of us waited on dry land while a group of locals baited gang hooks on long ropes with fresh bluefish and actually caught both of the hefty sharks, which, according to insiders, could attack a human.

Then there was a wonderfully exotic outing for peacock bass on the Orinoco River in Venezuela. It was hot and humid, and I figured a dip in the rock-strewn river, not far from the home of the Yanomami — said to be the last tribe among the Amazonas region’s Indians willing to fight intruders — might do me good.

I waved and laughed with little Indian children up on shore and soon discovered why they thought the big white man was so funny. He swam in the middle of thousands of little red-breasted piranhas, even some bigger black piranhas, but he didn’t know it. All of them are creatures of Hollywood fright films. Tinsel towners and little native children believe them to be terrible news if you enter their realm. Calmer heads will tell you they are quite harmless unless you bleed like a stuck pig and the water moves swiftly. Apparently neither applied because I finished my refreshing swim without so much as a nibble from one of the hand-sized little terrors.

And what about the time in Alaska, while fishing for silver salmon in the Koktuli River, a short flight from Lake Iliamna, when a grizzly bear came running straight for me and I thought this would be my last day on earth? The “griz” was dining on some left-over sockeye salmon a quarter-mile below us, but for some reason decided to move upstream. He spotted me, probably heard and scented me first, and charged straight up the middle toward me and a fishing pal from North Carolina. The bear stopped a good distance away, grumbled about something, turned and went back downstream. Yes, I needed to take a shower later that afternoon.

There have been other incidents, including encounters with snakes and spiders of all types, dead deer that turned out to be not nearly as dead as I thought, a blackpowder shotgun that went off when it wasn’t supposed to and a load of pellets tearing off a hunting boot but not my foot. I’ve even landed in an airplane in eastern Canada that made me age 20 years in 10 seconds. The plane hit a patch of early autumnal runway frost and began to spin toward a river. It stopped in time, and everybody was OK, but it was enough to scare me half to death.

However, the worst danger I’ve faced is a tiny creature no larger than the top of a stick pin. Apparently sometime in the past, I’ve had a deer tick in my hide, and now I suffer from Lyme disease. Some would call it poetic justice. It has gotten to the point where I visit one laboratory after another, even have appointments with an infectious disease specialist who is contemplating all manner of chilling courses of action to find out once and for all just how far advanced the disease is. I do know that my joints ache and that I tire easily and that the whole deal could progress to far worse scenarios.

Other than that, everything is wonderful.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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