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Sharks

Above, a Greenland shark with the parasite copepod Ommatokoita elongata on its eye. The parasite destroys the corneal tissue, rendering the shark partially blind. Stock photo

By Elof Axel Carlson

I was reading an article on the Greenland shark, Somniosus microcephalus, and I thought of my only other encounter with a shark (other than a slab on my dinner plate). That was when I was getting my bachelor’s at NYU and taking comparative anatomy.

One organism we dissected was the dogfish shark, Squalus acanthias. The sharks have no bones. They have a skeleton made of cartilage. The difficult challenge for my classmates and me was dissecting the inner ear within the cartilaginous capsule encasing it. I learned to respect surgeons, especially those working on the ears (like correcting otosclerosis of its calcareous deposits without breaking the coated set of bones that normally help us hear).

I learned that most sharks give birth to live young (puppies) rather than depositing eggs. Sex for sharks is a bit of a contortion act since the male (usually smaller than the female) uses one of its modified tail fins in lieu of a penis to inseminate a female. I also learned that they are quite ancient in the evolutionary scale, dominating the seas in the mid-Devonian era (about 390 million years ago) before the bony fishes out did them in adaptability.

That brings us back to S. microcephalus, which translates from its Latin name to an insulting “sluggish shark with a tiny head.” As its common name implies, these fish are located mostly in the Arctic circle and are spared an endangered species status as they are toxic to humans (and other predators) because they accumulate trimethylamine oxide in their tissues.

Inuits and others who live in that frosty region have learned to treat and ferment the fish so it is not as toxic; but even as a delicacy for the adventurous, it is not a popular item for those who catch fish for a living.

The sharks grow very slowly (less than half an inch a year) and swim at a leisurely pace of about one foot per hour. In addition to accumulating the toxic trimethylamine oxide, they also accumulate large amounts of urea in their tissues, which also contributes to their unsavory reputation among gourmets.

To make matters worse, the Greenland sharks are pretty ugly because they have luminescent parasites (copepod Ommatokoita elongata) that attach to their eyelids and use this to attract prey to their mouths. Although an opportunistic predator with much of their diet being decayed meat from drowned tetrapods and dead fish — they can swallow the floating carcass of a caribou — the sharks have been known to ambush and eat sleeping seals.

So why would such a revolting creature be attractive to research biologists? The answer is surprising. Greenland sharks are the longest lived vertebrates, living to be about 392 (272-512) years from radioactive carbon dating of crystals that are deposited in lenses of their eyes, which are layered like onions. They become sexually mature at about age 150 and attain a full mature adult size of 18 to 21 feet in length.

There is an irony to some of life’s winners of desired traits. Want to live as long as a Greenland shark? OK, make yourself toxic and marinate in urea. Try visiting your relatives at a speedy swimming rate of one foot per hour. Want to be cancer free no matter how old you get? OK, be like a naked mole rat (if you like subterranean life and ant hill type living).

We admire diversity among the millions of species of living things; but in addition to the instructive lessons of life (“Go to the ant thou sluggard”), we can find irony and humor in the knowledge we gain.

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

By Kevin Redding

As the nation sinks its teeth into another annual Shark Week on Discovery Channel, local fishermen from across the North Shore reflected on their experiences and close calls with the predators of the sea.

Capt. James Schneider, James Joseph Fishing in Huntington

Capt. James Schneider wrestles with a mako shark. Photo from James Schneider

I was giant bluefin tuna fishing on our smaller, 38-foot boat around 2004 and we were off Nantucket and we pulled up on a whale. Usually the tuna swim with the whales, they eat the same bait. And we saw what looked like giant tuna and we threw a bunch of bait into the water and put three lines in. All three rods went off at the same time and we hooked up what we thought were three tuna fish at the same time for a minute. Within 10 seconds of the hookup, the first fish jumped behind the boat … it was a 650-pound mako shark that got in between the other two lines. The other “tuna fish” were a 250-pound blue shark and another mako. We were using monofilament leaders for the tuna, and the mako came down on the line and snapped the leader (fishing line). Then the shark jumped above our eye level and cleared the water 12 to 15 feet, leaped completely out of the water trying to throw the hook out of its mouth. The other one we … caught it, after an hour and a half, it was a mako that was nearly 700 pounds, snagged in the dorsal, he’s swimming, felt a lot like a tuna fish. We put it in the boat and it was on the line for about an hour and half and then we gutted it and found about nine, full-sized bluefish intact in stomach, each weighing between 8 and 13 pounds.

Another time, I was out 17 miles south of Montauk with my son when he was 8 years old. I wanted to catch my son his first shark. We went out, my son caught a mako shark pretty early in the trip. Within 20 minutes of him hanging the shark from the stern of the boat, I noticed a giant shape coming toward the boat and it was a great white shark, about 17-18 feet long, probably close to 3,000 pounds — about the width of a Volkswagen. It was cruising with such agility coming right to the boat and we had a little time so I asked my son, “Do you want your shark or do you want to watch the great white eat the shark?” My son quickly decided he wanted his shark to show his grandparents so we whipped the shark into the boat just in time as the great white came up to the stern.

Capt. Brett Clifford, Osprey Fishing Fleet in Port Jefferson

Take a bite out of Shark Week, Long Island edition. Photo from Brett Clifford

My 11-year-old son, Kieran, was excited to go shark fishing for the first time so he, myself and one of the first mates from the Osprey trailed my 25-foot Aquasport to Montauk last Wednesday, July 19. We launched there after catching some fluke, went out about 20 miles to the sharking grounds and we drifted for about five hours with very little action. My son got a chance to see a sea turtle, which was kind of cool. A mahi-mahi was on the lure for a couple minutes but we eventually lost him. All hope seemed lost and we brought in one line and then when Kieran was reeling in the last line, the float popped up and we weren’t sure if it was a wave or a shark. I picked up the line and felt little bumps, put the rod back in the holder as Kieran safely put his hand on the line so he could feel the bumps. He felt them and he looked up at me and then the shark took it and the line went off. He was able to feel the power of the shark and how fast it takes a line like that. We hooked the shark, put the rod in Kieran’s lap and had him start fighting it. It took him about 15 to 20 minutes to bring in about a 5-foot mako. Although it was a keeper, we clipped it and let it go. We put one more bait in the water and it was then immediately picked up by a blue shark, which we released. I’ve caught makos, blue sharks and thresher sharks before [but] nothing can compare to watching your own son’s excitement and feel the thrill of a big game fish like that for the first time, so that totally trumps any other shark experiences I’ve had.

Capt. Steve Witthuhn, Top Hook Fishing Charters in Montauk and frequenter of Cold Spring Harbor

A hammerhead shark swims right up to a boat. Photo from Steve Witthuhn

There’s a lot of bait and life out there in Montauk so it’s one of the more exceptional years for this. That’s the fishing capital of the world and you’re bound to catch something there. We had a trip Friday, July 21, where we took a father and his two boys out to an area 12 miles across Montauk Point and I saw signs of life viewing whales and dolphins in the area. There was also a sea turtle — it was like an aquarium over there. We decided to set up there and we got the baits ready, using circle hooks, and started chumming — what we call “drifting and dreaming.” You get things out there and you’re waiting for the bite and dreaming of when that shark comes into the slick and looks for the bait. Our first hit was a 150-pound blue shark and that got things rolling. The next was a 125-pound dusky.

As we’re getting another blue shark off the line, we see a big hammerhead shark swim by. Hammerheads are very finicky, sometimes they take a slab bait but normally I’ve found them to be aggressive, they want live bait. So as we hooked up a live bluefish, the bluefish got excited and started running for its life because the hammerhead was on its tail. He tore it apart. We started playing with him and put some more bluefish on the line when we saw another hammerhead come into the slick. Talk about shark-infested waters, we were in the right place at the right time. We hooked up one of the hammerheads, about a 6 or 7 footer, and we fought it for about a half hour. It ate the live bluefish and then another hammerhead appeared. Once the action starts, everybody wakes up. Once you hear that rod go “zzzzing” then everybody jumps up and wants to see what kind of shark it is. It was pretty wild.

All these sharks were caught and then released. For me as a captain, it’s more about the thrill of the catch rather than the kill of the catch. If we can respect nature then we can have a lot of fun and educate our customers. I told them, “I know Shark Week begins in a few days, but you’re experiencing something live and what it’s all about.” I’m all for respecting and preserving the resource.

Nikko Kimzin and Sam Wolf in a scene from ‘West Side Story.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Charles J. Morgan

When dance master Jerome Robbins inspired Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim to come up with “West Side Story,” they in turn went to The Bard for his “Romeo and Juliet,” morphing the Guelphs and Ghibellines — that’s the Montagues and Capulets of Verona — into the street gangs, the Jets and Sharks. The “star-crossed lovers” became Tony and Maria. This gift to musical theater hit the boards at the Engeman two weeks ago, and the boards are still rattling.

Zach Trimmer and Samantha Williams in a scene from ‘West Side Story.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Zach Trimmer and Samantha Williams in a scene from ‘West Side Story.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

The entire production is built around dance. The pirouettes, arabesques and jetes were neatly comingled with the modern interpretive method to produce a mathematically perfect, yet emotionally penetrating terpsichorean feast.

At the head of all this was the choreography skills of Jeffry Denman and his two assistants Lauren Cannon and Trey Compton, who also acted as fight choreographer. This talented team gave the audience a night of dance the excellence of which your scribe has not seen in his near decade of writing “criticism.”

They say that the “devil is in the details” but not in this production. Imagine if you will a six-foot-high chain link fence running from upstage center down to stage left … suggesting urban schoolyards. This “prop” was climbed on, jumped on and over by male dancers of the Jets and Sharks in their attempts to escape … in tempo. They actually scaled the fence, landing on the other side on the beat — an incredible act of choreography.

Overall direction was in the always capable hands of Igor Goldin (“The Producers,” “Evita”). If one prescinds from the dance numbers, his blocking and interpretation efforts were carried through with exemplary professionalism.

Outstanding among the dancers were Scott Shedenhelm of the Jets and Karli Dinardo in the role of Anita. Shedenhelm was at his best in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” by far the funniest and most clever number in the show. Dinardo scored talent-wise in “America.”

The leads were handled skillfully by Zach Trimmer as Tony and Samantha Williams as Maria. Both have fittingly tender voices; he a more lyrical tenor, she a mellow, yet strong soprano. They excelled as the star-crossed lovers.

The leader of the Jets, Riff, was played by Sam Wolf who pits himself and his gang against Bernardo, played by Nikko Kimzin and his Sharks. The battles of Sharks vs. Jets is the dance armature of the play, and these two lead their factions brilliantly in dancing, acting and singing.

Among the musical numbers, the “Jet Song” really set the theme of pride and struggle. “Dance at the Gym” by the whole company brought out the animosity that almost erupted in violence. The tender “Tonight” by Wolf and Williams presented the balcony scene in all its romance. The mordant “America” that also showcased the patent talent of Ashley Perez Flanagan as Graciela, hit hard musically at the state of society in both the USA and Puerto Rico.

From left, Victoria Casillo, Tori Simeone,Samantha Williams and Ashley Perez Flanagan in a scene from ‘West Side Story.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
From left, Victoria Casillo, Tori Simeone,Samantha Williams and Ashley Perez Flanagan in a scene from ‘West Side Story.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Trimmer and Williams also performed romantically in “One Hand, One Heart.” And there was that Officer Krupke number that was most memorable.

The cast also included Mike Baerga, Josh Bates, Christian Bufford, Mark T. Cahill, Nick Casaula, Victoria Casillo, Joey Dippel, Jon Drake, Roy Flores, Eric Greengold, Joan Heeringa, Melissa Hunt, Gregory Kollarus, Leer Leary, Rick Malone, Ashley Marinelli, Kelly Methven, Kaitlin Niewoehner, Joseph Rosario, Tori Simeone and Marquez Stewart who all did a fabulous job.

Piercing live music was led by James Olmstead on keyboard with assistance from Craig Coyle; Robert Dalpiaz and Joel Levy on reeds; the indomitable Joe Boardman on trumpet with Steve Henry and Pete Auricchio; Brent Chiarello and Frank Hall on trombone; bass was Russell Brown with the reliable Josh Endlich on percussion. This ensemble was at its best in the staccato numbers of both Jets and Sharks such as “Dance at the Gym” and especially in “The Rumble.”

The Engeman spares no opposition when it produces a massive piece of entertainment like “West Side Story.”

All elements of the production including costume design by Tristan Raines, set design by DT Willis, lighting by Zack Blane and sound design by Laura Shubert were masterfully integrated into a sophisticated, articulated and authentic whole.

Many critics a few years back tried to see a “social significance” dimension latent in this show. On TV one described it as “… a slice of New York life.” Nonsense, of course. It was Shakespeare with a life of its own as true musical theater.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present evening performances of “West Side Story” on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and matinees on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 8. Tickets are $74 on Saturday evenings, $69 all other performances. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

This version corrects the spelling of Jeffry Denman’s name.

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The Suffolk County Community College 2014 men’s soccer team poses for a group photo. The team finished the season 21-4 and won the school’s second National Junior College Athletic Association Division III men’s soccer national title to earn its No. 1 ranking. Photo from Suffolk County Community College

The Suffolk County Community College Men’s Soccer team is the No. 1-ranked Division III team in the nation, according to the 2015 National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason rankings.

The Sharks made it to the national championship game in 2013, falling to Herkimer County Community College, 1-0, but are two-time national champions – 2010 and 2014 – and are looking to defend the national championship, with three starters returning and a core of talented incoming freshman.

Led by head coach Frank Vertullo, who was named the Coach of the Tournament following the national championship win, the Sharks will kick-off the 2015 season on Aug. 22 at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts.

Eric Schell and Faith Ahmed in a scene from ‘West Side Story’ at the SCPA. Photo from the SCPA

By Charles J. Morgan

About an eon ago your scribe was watching a TV talk show on the family’s round screen box on which a participant referred to “West Side Story” as a “slice of New York life.” Another participant, the great Robert Morley, snorted, “Ectually, old boy, it’s Romeo and Juliet.” Morley was right, and the Playbill at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Art’s opening really was the Bard’s opus with full credit put to music, and not just music but Broadway music and dance.

With a team featuring Arthur Laurent’s book, Leonard Bernstein’s music, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and Jerome Robbins’ choreography, success was all but secure. In SCPA’s effort it was secured in Smithtown.

Direction was by Jordan Hue who, facing the challenge of a massive cast, showed his craftsmanship in blocking and interpretation. Each Jet and each Shark were real tangible creatures thanks to Hue’s disciplined creativity.

The show is practically all choreography, and thanks to the genius of the indefatigable Melissa Rapelje, excellently performed execution was the armature of the show. She faced the off-beat accents, the dissonances and the diversity of rhythms undaunted. Her skills with interpretive, modern, Latin and even ballet were never more displayed.

Coalescing with the dancing and singing was the superb live music led by Melissa Coyle on keyboard with conductor Craig Coyle on piano. Jim Waddell was outstanding on drums. The number “Cool it!,” performed by the Jets, was accompanied by Waddell using only the sizzling hi-hats. Craig Lindsey and Bob Dalpiaz handled extremely competent reeds. Jill Boardman was on violin and Russ Brown’s bass anchored all the intricate changes of rhythm easily. Finally, Joe Boardman’s trumpet reached aesthetically ethereal heights … as usual.

The two “star-crossed lovers” were Eric Schell as Tony and Faith Ahmed as Maria. Schell’s tenor and Ahmed’s soprano melded smoothly in both duet and solo. In the “balcony” (fire escape) scene their “Tonight” was a truly velvet love song while Schell’s rendition of  “Maria” was lovingly rendered. Ahmed also exhibited obvious talent in “I Feel Pretty.”

In a choreographed dream sequence Courtney Braun sang a solo “Somewhere There’s a Place” with both charm and power delightfully linked. Justin Albinder stood out as the doomed Bernardo. As “Action” Bobby Montaniz leads the Jets in a hilarious mockery of the sadistic Officer Krupke. Some of the lines are quite dated: (“…my mother pushes tea…), yet Montaniz is the key to the humor of it all.

In addition to choreographer, Rapelje also played the role of the second lead, Anita. Her drive, verve and singing while leading the girls all keyed to a spicy rendition of “Puerto Rico” like a dish of asopao jibaro.

Add the intricate lighting by Chris Creevy, the massive, flexible set design by Timothy Golebiewski and the wonderful costumes by Ronald Green III and you have a wonderful evening of live theater.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “West Side Story” through Aug. 30. Tickets are $35. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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