Tag Archives: endangered

The History of A Once “Endless Resource,” Shark Fishing, Port Salerno, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Shark catch at the commercial plant in Port Salerno, ca 1930s/1940s. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Tiger shark at the commercial plant in Port Salerno, ca 1930s/1940s. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Port Salerno fishing village's shark factory ca. 1930s and 40s. (Photo courtesy of Stuart Heritage Collection and Alice Luckhardt.)
Port Salerno fishing village’s shark factory ca. 1930s and 40s. (Photo courtesy of Stuart Heritage Collection and Alice Luckhardt.)

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….”

A SAVE OUR SHARKS drawing by a JD Parker Elementary student, 2015 as part of the River Kidz in our schools program. (Photo JTL)
A Save Our Sharks Protect and Respect drawing by a JD Parker Elementary student, 2015 as part of the River Kidz in our schools program. (Photo JTL)
Historian Alcie Luckhardt. (Facebook photo 2015)
Historian Alcie Luckhardt. (Facebook photo 2015)
“Old Stuart,” The big city!  Salerno would have been much less developed and smaller than this south by about 10 miles.
Shark Industry, Port Salerno. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Shark Industry, Port Salerno. The livers were used for vitamin A production. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow)

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.

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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)

.....
…..River Kidz…

I’d Rather be an Eagle Than a Turkey, St Luice River/Indian River Lagoon

The Bald Eagle, (Public Photo)
The Majestic Bald Eagle, (Public Photo)

Benjamin Franklin preferred the wild turkey as our national bird, as he felt the bald eagle, that sometimes steals food from other birds of prey, had “bad moral character…” Even so, one has to wonder if the United States of America would have ever reached its “greatness” if our national bird had been a turkey.

Wild turkey displays its fanned tail. (Public photo)
A beautiful but not quite as stately, wild turkey displays its fanned tail. (Public photo)

Just recently during the Stuart Air Show, my brother Todd, sent me some photos he took of an eagle soaring over the St Lucie River in North River Shores. About three weeks ago, I was pulling into Cedar Point Plaza in Stuart, I looked up and saw the unmistakable white “bald” head, large body enormous wing span of a bald eagle. Incredible! Inspirational! It made my day!

Bale Eagle flying over North River Shores. (Photo by Todd Thurlow, 11-14.)
Bale Eagle flying over North River Shores. (Photo by Todd Thurlow, 11-14.)

Today, in our Indian River Lagoon Region, birds of prey are by far more prevalent than when I was a kid growing up in Stuart in the 1970s and 80s. Even if the Indian River Lagoon system was healthier then, than it is now, in the 70s and 80s, rarely did one see the great eagle soaring or the abundant ospreys one sees today.

The reason? Of course DDT, (dichlorodiphenyltrichhloroethane), a powerful chemical used to control mosquitoes and as an agricultural insecticide. Once it became widely known that DDT was a threat to both bird and human health, primarily due to the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, in 1962, DDT’s use was eventually outlawed in the United States.

So in spite of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon’s extensive decline, there are more eagles about today than before. In Florida, after being designated as “endangered” since 1972, in 1995 the bald eagle was reclassified as “threatened.” The birds and their habitat remain protected.

Eagles mate for life and a pair has been reported in the area of Sewall’s Point for about four years. The photo below was taken by Greg Braun and shows one of the eagles sitting on a rock by Bird Island. Apparently, the pairs may leave each other for many months when traveling great distances, and then return to their nesting sites. There are accounts of their “mating sky dance” where the eagles lock talons hundreds of feet up in the air and then tumble, almost hitting the earth, only to release and regain their flight at the last-minute!

 

Eagle sitting near Bird Island just off of the Town of Sewall's Point. (Photo by Greg Braun, 2012.)
Eagle sitting near Bird Island just off of the Town of Sewall’s Point. (Photo by Greg Braun, 2012.)

An eagle can stand three feet in height, and its wing span can be up to 8 feet! Their eyes are just larger than human eyes and of course, their eye sight is superior, approximately 3 and 1/2 times better than a human with 20/20 vision. For instance, they are able to see another eagle flying 50 miles away and a rabbit moving over the ground a mile away. They love fish and are outstanding hunters. Females are larger than males and dominate the nest, often killing the smaller male sibling. Nature does not sugar coat the eagle’s drive to dominate and survive, especially the females….

Another strong instinct is “pruning” which chicks mimic even before they have feathers by accessing an oil gland at the base of the torso using  their curved beak to pretend they are coating  each feather.  Baby eagles must grow for about five or six years to be sexually mature and attain their white head feathers. Parents take care of the young for many months even though the young start flapping their wings around 8 weeks and are encouraged to take flight.  I was lucky to experience this wonder, when a few years ago, Dr Dale Hipson, a friend of the family, took me to his camouflaged hide out in the Corbett Wildlife Management Area to watch eagle parents dutifully feeding and teaching their young. It was an experience I will never forget. 

Dr Hipson taught me that the  word “bald” is an archaic word for “white” and this is how eagles got their name. Juvenile eagles are brown in color and often mistaken as ospreys or hawks.

Reading about eagles, it is hard to understand their migration patterns and perhaps scientists  do not really know as they can’t fly with them, but it seems some eagles in Florida migrate thousands of miles to Alaska (Snow birds!) and some are “resident” eagles remaining here. Florida is  the second most eagle-populated state in the nation other than Alaska.

Eagle nests are the largest nests known.
Eagle nests are the largest nests known. (Photo Harbor Ridge reporting/video taping  of nesting site, 2011.)
Eagle in area of Rio, as taken last week by wildlife photographer,
Eagle in area of Rio, as taken last week by wildlife photographer and Facebook friend, Rebecca Fatzinger, 11-14.)

In closing, I am happy that some birds are doing well in spite of the poor health of the Indian River Lagoon. And I have to say that with no disrespect to the turkey, I am glad the eagle is our national bird!

Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey to the eagle as he felt the eagle was of "bad moral character" as it sometimes steals food from other birds of prey and other eagles.
Benjamin Franklin preferred the wild turkey to the bald eagle as our national bird  as he felt the eagle was of “bad moral character…”

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Florida Wildlife Commission: Managing Bald Eagles: (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bald-eagle/)

Florida Nature: Bald Eagles: (http://www.floridiannature.com/eagleandospreyraptors.htm)

J.W. Corbett Wildlife Area, Palm Beach County, FL: (http://myfwc.com/viewing/recreation/wmas/lead/jw-corbett)

 

 

A Time for Alligators Along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

An antique post card reads," A Florida Native." ca 1910. (Thurlow collection.)
An antique post card reads, “A Native of Florida,” ca. 1910. (Thurlow collection.)

I have always liked alligators. I have  been around them as long as I can remember in one way or another. When I was a kid and we would go water skiing near North River Shores close to the North Fork of the St Lucie River, we would see small ones leisurely resting in storm pipes coming out of people’s seawalls;  in my household everyone was always cheering for them as my grandfather Henderson, my parents, and later myself and brother also graduated from University of Florida. Jenny my sister is a traitor and went to Emory. 🙂

My parents have an awesome collection of alligator postcards that I will share today, and I figured now is a good time to write about gators as their babies should be hatching soon in nests along the fresh and some brackish areas of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The females lay their eggs in early June and the little ones  hatch out about 65 days later.

“Crocodilla” fossil records show alligators have been on the earth for more than 200 million years. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself. But they have had many hardships.

According to Sandra Thurlow’s history writings on our Treasure Coast, when many of the first pioneers came to Florida and took river tours, they often just shot as many as they could “for fun.” This went for egrets and herons too. Sorry. But what a bunch of idiots. I know, I must be open minded and look at things “historically” within the context of the times….kind of like how people drained the whole state with out thinking…

As far as alligators, more recently, hunting, poaching, the fashion industry, pollution, and loss of habitat pushed the Florida alligator to the brink of extinction by the 1950s. In 1967 the US government listed alligators as an endangered species and gave them protection.  In one of the great comebacks of the “endangered,” alligators were increasing in numbers by the 1980s. They still have protections today, but are off the “endangered” list. 

Here are some of the antique postcards from my parents’ collection.

Alligator post card collection ca. 1910. (Thurlow collection.)
Alligator post card collection ca,. 1910-20 (Thurlow collection.)

IMG_6693 IMG_6691 IMG_6694 IMG_6690 IMG_6688 IMG_6686

Recently, a friend called me up and asked if there was someone who could move a small alligator on her property in Palm City. I called trappers recommended to me, and each of them said by law, if the alligator was reported as a “nuisance” and was over four feet, it would be removed and killed, not relocated.

I found this depressing but this is how the state manages the “nuisance gators.” Apparently they may be used for their leather and meat keeping the population in check.  Hmmm? The trapper also said, “If you don’t want it killed, just leave it alone, chances are it will move in time to another area.” This makes sense to me.

According to a Stuart News article by Ed Killer in 2010, in the state of Florida, the Florida Wildlife Commission from 1948 to 2009 documented that there were a total of  512 allligator bites; unprovoked: 330; provoked, 182; fatalities, 22. There have been two deaths in our Martin/St Lucie area. In 1978 a 14 year old boy was killed while swimming across Hidden River Canal off Bessey Creek and in 1984 an 11 year old boy was killed while swimming in a canal in St Lucie County. The alligators were 11-12 feet long.

This is terrible and heartbreaking. Like sharks, alligators share our environment are dangerous when large; we must be careful in their presence.

To end on a more positive note, in my reading I learned alligators have been noted using tools, like humans, a trait that belongs only to a few “intelligent” species. Yes. Alligators have been documented purposefully diving under the water putting sticks on their heads so water birds will land on them when looking for sticks to build their nests. Ingenious!

Maybe if we destroy the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River completely, along with the rest of the planet, they will return walking on two legs? Perhaps they would manage the waters of South Florida a lot better than humans…

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LINKS OF INTEREST

Florida Memory Project/Alligators: (http://www.floridamemory.com/photographiccollection/photo_exhibits/alligators/protection.php)
FWC/Alligator Facts: (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/alligator/facts/)
FWC/Alligator Management: (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/alligator/)
Encyclopedia of Life/Alligators: (http://eol.org/data_objects/15661319)