As the year 2017 comes to a close, we had a special guest sighted in our offshore waters. On December 17th, a Humpback whale was seen breaching in the Atlantic off of Stuart!
Although these mammoth creatures do migrate, and thus navigate our seas, this is a special and rare site.
Perhaps this is time for reflection…
Just as with the Biblical story of Jonah and the Whale, the Native People also give whale sightings and experiences special significance.
According to native lore, “whales visitors/spirits were used to convey a message of power and might, representing the need for strong, silent deliberation.”
In the story of Jonah, having turned away from responsibility, and being thrown as “bad luck” from a ship, Jonah is swallowed by a giant whale, reflects, repents, is renewed, is given a second chance, is ejected, and fulfills his responsibilities….
Perhaps there is a lighter message from our visiting whale, like “Happy Holidays,” and “Merry Christmas,” or a fun breach-splash saying “Yahoo! Keep up the fight for clean water!”
For me, the whale visitation made me reminisce on Ed and my visit to Baja, in 2013, to visit the Grey Whales once slaughtered, and now a great tourist attraction, and how this experience of seeing these huge mammals adapt to our human world, especially the mothers with their calves,–the controversy, and alteration in both human and whale actions—– changed my life, and my outlook forever.
In any case, the season is upon us and I am grateful for all of the work done this year for our waters and for our Florida. Thank you River Warriors! Thank you Bullsugar! Thank you Captains for Clean Water! Thank you people of Florida! Thank you President Negron! Thank you all, so many others across our great state! And in closing, thank you visiting whale!
Sometimes it is hard to stay motivated, but like Winston Churchill said: “Never Give Up.” Our work is so important!
…Yes, in 2018, in spite of the difficulties, we will continue to be the strong, silent or screaming giant that dominates the conscience of Florida…
Watch TCPalm video here: http://www.tcpalm.com/videos/news/local/martin-county/2017/12/18/video-humpback-whale-sighted-off-shore-near-stuart/108725684/
Mattanza Charters, based in Pirates Cove Resort and Marina in Port Salerno, posted video taken Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, of humpback whales breaching near Eight Mile Reef in the Atlantic. VIDEO PROVIDED BY CAPT. MIKE MURRAY Wochit
Sharks seem to be feared more than they are respected….but that perception is changing as their endangered status becomes more critical and well-known. As most things that have to do with natural resources and the environment, there were few concerns regarding the “overfishing of sharks” in Florida the 1930s and 40s. Their supply seemed endless, and their value to the oceans and ecosystem was not widely understood.
This photo of a shark from my mother’s historic archives, represents one of the 25,000 sharks that were caught and processed in Port Salerno each year on average off our St Lucie Inlet during the 1930s and 40s. Port Salerno was a tiny fishing village. Today it is one of the hippest up and coming areas of Martin County. The shark plant is no longer there. A museum created in memory of such would be a great addition to the area…
During the 1930s, sharks provided important resources to society and gave fishing families a stable income. During World War II vitamin A was a hot item, especially for pilots pursuing accurate night vision during their dangerous missions.
Another interesting forgotten historical fact?….believe it or not, “by mistake” the first “shark repellent” was tested and created right here by local fishermen—yes–right off the St Lucie Inlet off our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. It was “top-secret” and it worked!
Today I will feature a vignette of family friend, historian, and Miami native, Alice Luckhardt. Her very informative and comprehensive text is about Port Salerno’s shark fishing history. Alice and her husband, Greg, have written hundreds of historical accounts that are shared in the Stuart News and are also part of the public archives of Martin County’s Stuart Heritage. Thank you Alice for these important historical resources!
The sharks? Good luck to the remaining; “may you be fruitful and multiply….”
Historical Vignettes of Martin County: Salerno Shark Industries and Vitamin A by historian ALICE LUCKHARDT
STUART – Vitamin A, essential for good human health was once derived from oil extracted from the liver of sharks and a leading supplier of this valuable substance was the tiny fishing village of Salerno.
Shark liver oil was believed to promote wound healing, stimulate growth, increase resistance to infection, aid in combating fever and colds, improve eyesight, prevent excessive dryness of the skin as well as an overall general remedy for conditions of the respiratory tract and the digestive system.
Generally, the livers, chopped into fist-sized chunks, were rendered down in big vats. The oil could be skimmed off, cooled and canned, ready for shipment.
In the 1930s, assisted by brother George, Captain Charles L. Mooney’s Salerno Shark Industries-Fisheries, Inc., supplied not only the needed shark liver oil and novelty shark teeth for jewelry, but also the outer skin hide of the sharks. In 1938, an order was placed by a Chicago firm for 200,000 shark teeth. The Ocean Leather Corporation processed the skins into leather goods, primarily luggage. Fins, considered a delicacy by some, were shipped to China.
From its meager beginning, Mooney had continued to make improvements in the business, increasing boats, buildings and processing methods.
By 1941, a shark meal plant, measuring 36 x 65 feet and equipped with hammer mills, drying machines and conveyors, enabled the profitable use of all of the shark’s carcass, accommodating about 200 pounds an hour.
An aroma filled the air as the cooker, steam boiler, hammer mill, flaker dehydrator and sacker completely finished the process, ready for shipment, the ‘meal’ eventually to become food for dogs, cats and poultry. To supply these industries, thousands of sharks were caught in the Gulf Stream and elsewhere, sometimes as many as 600 in a single week.
Scientific analysis and studies were conducted to determine the best use for shark products.
In the 1940s, Robert M. French, Sr., who had founded the Shark Fisheries of Hialeah, Florida, headed the Salerno site, joined later by his sons Robert Jr. and Price, Mooney having previously relinquished his interest due to ill health.
In 1944, the Shark Fishery was purchased by the Borden Co., one of the largest users of Vitamin A in the US, retaining R. M. French Sr. as chief executive. Borden’s primary interest was to increase vitamin production, from shark liver oil, to fortify and enrich its milk products.
The liver, being a main source of Vitamin A, was considered of utmost importance in the war effort, with supplies from world markets having been cut off. The vitamin was important not only for the health of the soldiers, but especially for night fliers who took the vitamin before take-off to see better in the dark.
Actually, during those years, a very secretive study was also being made which involved the Salerno fishery, the details of which were known by only about three or four people in the area.
Although sharks will sometimes attack and eat other living or freshly killed sharks, it was noticed by the fishermen that hooks which had been baited with cut-up pieces of the flesh from sharks caught the day before, were virtually left untouched and that, furthermore, the sharks actually avoided the area, not returning for days.
With that information, the US Federal Government under the Office of Strategic Services, employed Stewart Springer, from Homestead, Florida, a chemist, to work with the Salerno plant to further investigate and conduct experiments, the end results being the development of a shark repellant.
Known as ‘Shark Chaser,’ it proved to be invaluable in saving the lives of sailors or aviators forced down at sea in shark-infested waters. According to Robert and Price French, interviewed later, it was difficult to have to pretend “nothing unusual was going on” as the experiments involved the cooking of thousands of pounds of shark meat in barrels of an alcohol solution, the aroma definitely attracting some attention.
By 1946, the shark fishery plant, one of only three of its kind in the U.S. was considered essential to public welfare and continued to supply shark liver oil and other products. Borden expanded and improved the facility which at its height employed as many as 50 people and used 12 boats to haul in the ‘tigers of the sea’ some 25,000 or more per year, with an annual gross of about $500,000.
However, by 1947, due to scientific research, Vitamin A could be synthesized and was therefore much less expensive. In time, the man-made vitamin supplanted the natural one obtained from the shark and by July 1950, the Borden Corp. business in Salerno was closed.
In June 1962, the Shark Industries factory was burned to the ground by the Port Salerno Volunteer Fire Department as a fire practice drill. The remains of an industry which had gained national attention, recognition and perhaps gratitude, was gone. With some imagination, those in Salerno may sense that distinct aroma still lingering in the air.
Alice L. Luckhardt is a freelance historical researcher and writer and member of the Board of Directors for the Stuart Heritage Museum and researcher for the Elliott and House of Refuge.
Stuart Heritage: (http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com)
FWC Sharks: (http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/sharks/)
Sharks and Conservation: (https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/sharks.htm)
Since the 1960s, I have seen many bridges destroyed and rebuilt, right here in Martin County. They are symbolic of our history, our accomplishments, and our struggles.
I may be making this up in my memory, but I think I recall my parents driving me over the Palm City bridge when I was a kid and it was made of wood. The clunk of slow-moving, heavy car, over the uneven planks was somehow comforting, like the rhythm of a familiar horse. But times change, and bigger and “better” bridges are built…
The best bridge summary of Martin County I have ever read was written by local historian, Alice Luckhart. You can read it here: (http://www.tcpalm.com/news/historical-vignettes-martin-county-bridges-and-bri)
The “bridges to the sea,” from Stuart, to Sewall’s Point, to Hutchinson Island–over the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon were built in 1958. Sandra Henderson Thurlow, in her book, Sewall’s Point, The History of a Peninsular Community of Florida’s Treasure Coast, discusses how the relative isolation of Sewall’s Point ended in 1958 when, two “bridges to the sea opened.” For 10 cents, one could come to Sewall’s Point, and for 25 cents, one could go all the way to the ocean. The tolls were removed in 1961 and the bridges formally named in 1965: “Evans Crary Sr,” and “Ernst F. Lyons”– going west to east.
I am almost sure, I also remember, my mother, or some history person, telling me “they” did not name the bridges right away as it was a political “hot potato.” Perhaps in the beginning there had been controversy regarding building the bridges and certain people did not want their names associated with them until the political fumes dissipated and settled upon something else? Perhaps I am making this up? Like my fuzzy romanticized memory of wooden bridge in Palm City?
I don’t know. But what I do know, is that bridges allow us to cross over, to get to the other side.
I am trying to build bridges to send water south to the Everglades and save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. This means working with the sugar industry; the South Florida Water Management District; the Governor; the state and federal Legislature; the Army Corp of Engineers; the County; and most of all the people who live along the Treasure Coast.
I must admit, jokingly, sometimes I feel like “jumping off the bridge.” But I won’t. With your help, I will rebuild it; make it higher, more beautiful, and less damaging to the environment. And hopefully, in the end, we will all be inspired!
Last Sunday, I had wanted to go to church, but there was a different lesson in store for me that day…
At 8:01, Steve Burton, the head of FAU’s Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Rescue Team, sent out a call to its trained volunteers: “A kogia (pygmy sperm whale) had beached itself at Stuart Beach, less than five minutes from where I live in Sewall’s Point. I texted that I would be there, and the morning took on that surreal experience that goes along with meeting on land, our deep water friends from the sea.
“Ed, let’s go!” I called to my husband down the stairwell. We put on warm clothes, grabbed every bucket in the house, and in silence, drove the jeep over the bridge on the other side of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Ed and I had been through whale stranding before, most memorably, in 2012. (I have been a trained volunteer with Harbor Branch since 2011.) (http://www.fau.edu/hboi/marine_mammals/)
In 2012, a call like the one this morning came in. Not one, but twenty-two pilot whales had beached themselves along Avalon Beach in north Ft Pierce. Like a war scene, their bodies flailing in the breaking waves, Harbor Branch, NOAA, St Lucie County Fire Rescue and police, the Florida Wildlife Commission, and concerned members of the public, did all they could to save these protected marine mammals. Five calves were saved; the rest did not make it off the beach being humanly euthanized, moved, and studied for disease giving clues to their stranding.
Apparently these creatures have such strong social bonds, they will follow their sick family leader to shore, even to their deaths. A bond that serves them in nature most of the time…..
The whale this day was a pygmy sperm whale, not a pilot whale, but both are deep divers and rare to see.
Within minutes Ed and I arrived: it was very windy, and the surf was kicked up. Florida Wildlife Commission officers, and Martin County fire rescue and lifeguards were at the scene waiting for Harbor Branch, NOAA and a veterinarian to arrive. (People come as far as Vero and Boca to assist in such rescues.)
On the beach, I nodded at the officers—–they saw my Harbor Branch shirt.
I immediately filled a bucket with ocean water and slowly poured it over the whale to keep its skin moist in the hot sun. The whale was about 10 or 12 feet long; female: a thousand or so pounds; with a pink belly, and grey-black “smooth as plastic” skin; her head was blunt and beautifully shaped—I remembered how I’d read that the US Government studied deep-sea whales to derive the shapes of World War II submarines….Her blow-hole was off centered on the top of her head, an adapted nostril; her eyes were low on her body and small; barely open…Originally, she was on her side, breathing heavily. These whales can dive more than 1000 feet.
I leaned down, slowly…
Looking in the eye of a whale is something that is a lesson in and of itself. They are intelligent, and look back at you, like a dog, or a person. They know you are there. I sensed no fear in this whale, only total exhaustion.
She had scrapes and abrasions all over her body from coming in the harsh surf. Usually these whales are seen alone or in groups of five or six in the deep ocean. Scientists don’t know for certain, but it is believed they dive over a thousand feet to catch squid and they even sequester the ink in their own bodies using it too as a way to escape and confuse predators…sometimes they just float like logs in the ocean, and as a boat approaches, they submerge. A lot is not known about them.
Over the next few minutes, Ed and I met some of the others already there. The press arrived. Throngs of people gathered.
The couple that had found the whale at 7AM, while walking the beach, the Sopkos, were visiting from Cleveland. He, a steelworker; she a caretaker. They were so interested and wanted to do all they could to help. Making a 911 call to save a whale was not what they had expected that morning…They stayed the entire time, helping in any way they could.
Once all of the authorities and the veterinarian had arrived, it was decided to take the whale into the Harbor Branch ambulance, but she was too uncomfortable, and would not be carried, so the work up was done right there on the beach. It took hours. The veterinarian was excellent– Dr Kilpatrick, from Vero. His compassion showed as he determined the whales’ vital signs. She was not well and her breathing had become stalled and labored. The vet explained that heart problems are commonly seen in these whales. This is being studied…
He also explained that, pygmy sperm whales do not have a good record of survival once beached. In a majority of instances when they have been put back out to sea, they beach again, and again, and again, sometimes with sharks waiting in the waves.
Their bodies, usually “weightless” in sea water, feel the full force of gravity once on land. Their internal organs are under tremendous pressure. The animals are literally collapsing under their own weight.
Another hour passed……..
During the scene, Chase Franco, 14, was next to me, a student at Jensen Beach High School. Chase is affiliated with the fire rescue team. They allowed him to take part.
Over time, all had been done that could be done for the ailing whale. The call was made to euthanize her to put her out of her agony.
On my knees, there next to Chase, whom I know from him being a bag boy at Publix… The tension was thick. Having been through this before in Ft Pierce that awful day, I braced myself.
Others took the position to hold the whale; long time marine mammal volunteer, Jim Moir, held her tail; he encouraged us to softly speak to the whale and warned us they sometimes fight.
I looked at Chase. Although he is an avid fisherman, this was different. To see him now faced with the whale’s impeding death was unsettling. We held tight.
“Help me.” I said, to myself….”Help me find something to say to this young person….”
Chase looked at me, his big blue eyes questioning…
I started speaking….
“Chase, as you know the whale is going to be euthanized. It is sick. This is always difficult. This is what I try to do and maybe you can do? Concentrate, give the whale part of your energy, and know you are receiving some of hers…think about all of those wonderful years under the sea, blue light, and friends… Happiness, hunting, and survival. She had a good life; now it’s time to let go….but she will be with you, always….”
Chase closed his eyes. He concentrated….
No one spoke….
The whale had not taken a breath for minutes; her eyes were closed in peaceful repose; she did not fight.
Chase finally looked at me, glassy blue eyes reflecting blue ocean and blue sky…He understood.
We carried the whale to the Harbor Branch ambulance. Some people fought back tears. It was another whale of a lesson…a lesson that only our friends from the sea can give…
I believe the first shorebird I “rescued” was a blue heron, along the St Lucie River. I was in middle school and my friends found the magnificent, four foot tall creature, caught in fishing line in Rio, in the mangroves by their home. If I remember correctly, I was the one who held the beak and body while my friends cut away the fishing line. I never let go, and my best friend, Vicki Whipkey, had an older sister Beth, who drove us to a Veterinarian, Dr Hooks. This was about 1976. I felt oddly important; I had a purpose, to help…
I have always felt a responsibility to assist animals in distress, but one must be careful. How I learned this stuff, I’ll never know. I think it was just part of growing up in Stuart when it was small and we as we were always outdoors. And my parents always had some animal for my brother and sister and I to raise: a raccoon, a robin, a opossum, a black snake….
With birds, the most important thing is to be very careful of the beak. Almost any shorebird, can take out an eye very quickly. Of course the bird is scared and thinks you are a predator when you try to rescue it, so if you are not comfortable, just call the authorities.
If you feel inclined, have a towel or shirt in one hand and ideally someone else with you; don’t hesitate, grab the beak and close it, not covering the nostrils; be gentle with the head and neck but be firm, you must be in control; move the head inward, in the direction of the neck’s natural curve, close to bird’s body; now use your other hand to scoop its body up and into your arms; keep the head away from your face. You’re almost done!
Now to get the bird some help. I have driven pelicans to the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center while holding them in my lap, probably not a good idea. Ideally, you have a large container and gently put them into it, covering it so they calm down. You can now deliver the bird or call the authorities to come pick it up.
The Treasure Coast Wildlife Center is located at 8626 SW Citrus Blvd. Palm City, Florida 34990, 772-286-6200. Animal Control’s number is 772-220-7170, through the Sheriff’s non emergency number.
Most recently with the Gannet, it was after 5PM so I had to call Animal Control. The control officer’s name was Michele Thonney. She was terrific: prompt, knowledgeable, and compassionate. I am planning on writing Sheriff Snyder a note expressing my gratitude for his professional staff. She even sent me a link to a video on Gannets (below), amazing dive bomb birds that hunt fish from fantastic heights and can swim/dive 40 plus feet deep; they live at sea and migrate thousands of miles, if “from around here,” probably to Nova Scotia. Their airodynamic bodies have been used in the design of missiles. It is rare to find a Gannet along our Martin County beaches: I feel lucky to have helped one. Good luck to you, should you decide to as well! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwPrXOtBoVg
I use my mother a lot when I speak about myself because she has had such a profound impact on me. She and my father taught me to like maps, to like history, to like the stories of the people of today and of those that were pioneers, in our once great wilderness. And my mother, unlike me, is much more accepting of our area’s change. “It’s history,” she says….
I look at this 1839 map excerpt, I see so many changes, and I wonder if the history we are creating is going awry. This 1839 map was a war map because we were at war with the Seminoles pushing them further into the interior of the Everglades. They never surrendered….but we took most of the lands they lived on and changed them.
In 1892 we dug, by hand, the St Lucie Inlet, once Gilbert’s Bar, that had closed up since this map was drawn, creating the most bio diverse estuary in North America, as salt water and fresh water of the ocean, and St Lucie River/ Indian River Lagoon, mixed; in 1923 we dug the C-44 canal from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River as an outlet for a “diked” lake that had been created for agriculture south of the lake, the first and “most important” industry in our state; in the 1930s and 40s we built C-23 and C-24 to drain the “useless” Alpatiokee Swamp meandering through “Martin and St Lucie Counties,” once known as “Mosquito County;” we “moved” the Indian River Inlet, creating the Ft Pierce Inlet; we built bridges, houses, roads, schools, churches and other places of worship, and finally we built shopping malls. We fought wars, had children, we had grandchildren, farmed, started businesses, went through desegregation and women’s rights. And along the way we loved and cherished what we had created, although it was hard: “a human paradise,” a veritable Garden of Eden.
And what do we have today? For me, it is still paradise, with a couple of caveats, a dying river, children who can’t swim or catch fish with out the possibility of a tumor or lesion, a lot of people on the road…. Can we turn back? Or is this change going to be constant? I think even my mother would say: “the river’s history, is a history to change.”
OVERVIEW: The water system for South Florida starts in the chain of lakes, just south of Orlando. This water runs south, along the canalized Kissimmee River, making it to Lake Okeechobee in just a few days, a trip that took months before the snake like river was turned into a canal by the Army Corp and the State of Florida in the 1960s. The now unfiltered water is full of pollutants, nitrogen and phosphorus it picks up along the way.
The giant lake, once open to the south to nourish the Everglades, has been closed off by a dike since the late 1920s. Thus when the lake water rises too high for the “safety” of agriculture, mostly sugar, south of lake, the water is diverted east and west through the estuaries: the Caloosahatchee and the St Lucie.
From this diverted water, billions of gallons goes to tide through the Gulf of Mexico on the west, and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. Along the way, the estuaries are destroyed of all life and the economies of the surrounding cites are decimated.
At South Florida Water Management meetings, stakeholders fight over water rights…
For the St Lucie, dumping billions of gallons to tide, there are toxic algae warnings from the health department and state; salinity is so low oysters and seagrasses have died off by 99%; wildlife suffers and dies; business and recreation are at a standstill; children go back to school speaking of the “lost summer…”
Yes, the estuaries have been the dumping ground for Lake Okeechobee since the 1920’s when the estuaries were canalized by the State of Florida and the Army Corp of Engineers…
And yes, Martin County residents have fought against this destruction before, but this time it is different…
This summer a “Riverlution” began….
Right now, this “Riverlution” is building and organizing….
This new blog is dedicated to the “Riverlution” of Martin County, Florida, 2013. May it educate and inspire you….as you inspire me!
For the Estuaries,
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, Commissioner, Town of Sewall’s Point