Of the sharks and their size, how they are caught and other particularities of these animals.

Translated by Charlotte Rhoads ’22

Given that there are sharks in the seas and coasts of Spain, and we are not talking about an unknown animal, I will say here what I have seen in this great gulf of the Ocean Sea and in the coasts of these islands and the Mainland of these Indies. It happens many times, as the ships are navigating the open seas or sailing the coasts of the Indies, that the sailors kill many tuna, votos, porbeagle sharks, and dolphinfish with harpoons, spears or chain hooks, depending on the kind of fish; but let us leave these aside, since this chapter is about sharks. Though they can be seen in the Spanish seas, sharks are more common here and more often and continuously seen and killed because of the frequency of navigation; although sharks are also harpooned, and when they are small they can be killed with a spear, another method of killing is necessary with the largest ones, because they are big fish and very swift in the water and very fierce and gluttonous. They can be seen very clearly when they approach the ships because they glide along very near the surface of the water. To catch them, the sailors launch a chain hook from the stern of the ship, which is as thick as a thumb and as long as a span and a half or more, and curved, as hooks tend to be; the barbs of this harpoon are to the proportion of the harpoon’s thickness, and at the end of the hook’s shaft there are three or four or more chain links made of thick iron, and at the end of this a cord or rope of heavy hemp, two or three times thicker than the hook, and on it they put a large piece of fish or fat or any meat, or part of the innards of another shark, if one has been killed recently. In a single day I have seen them catch ten of them, and not wanting to kill as many as they could. So, going back to the way they are caught, the sharks swim faster than a ship traveling at full sail, even in favorable weather, and they keep up with the ship, traveling along the surface and eating the refuse and filth that is thrown overboard. And the shark is very nimble, circling the ship as many times as it wants, sometimes overtaking the ship and turning back very easily, more nimbly or with more skill and speed than that of the boat, as if the shark were a grown man running around a four-year-old child. They can follow a ship for two-hundred leagues or more, and even for as long as they want. Trailing aft, the shark sees the hook and bait and snatches it, swallowing everything; because it wants to escape with the prey, it pulls away from the ship and the hook penetrates its jaw. Some of these sharks are so big that it takes between twelve and fifteen men to pull one on board. And as they hoist it on the ship, pulling on the rope that I mentioned, its tail lashes so violently that it seems as if it is going to crash the boards into the ship; just as it has been loaded on the deck, a sailor quickly hits it on the head with the tail of an axe, promptly killing it. Some are twelve feet or more in length, and the thickest half of the body is six or seven spans or more around. They have a large mouth in proportion to the body, and most of these sharks have two rows of teeth running continuously, one near the other; every row of these sets of teeth is in itself different, and each tooth is very dense and sharp, and the same tooth castellated in parts, pointed and jagged like a saw. Once the shark is dead, they slice it into thin strips, which they hang to dry from the rigging of the ship for two or three days or more. They eat it boiled or roasted with common garlic sauce; they also eat it fresh, and I have eaten it both ways, but the small ones, called haquetas, are the best.

It is good fish for seafaring people and offers ample provision for many days due to its large size; but it is not very good for the passengers and men who are not accustomed to the sea. It is a leathery fish, like dogfish and velvet catfish; those and the sharks give birth to living offspring, like sea wolves (monk seals) and manatees, which I will discuss below. Pliny did not mention any of these in the list of fish that give birth included in his Natural History, except for the sea wolf or monk seal, which Pliny[1] calls “old sailor.” Pliny said that water animals that are covered in hair do not lay eggs, only live young; such animals are the pistris, whale, old sailor or sea wolf (monk seals), and those he calls sea cows (manatees). He also says that we can know the ebb and flow of the sea through their hair, as I said in the previous chapter on sea wolves. Neither these sharks, nor the velvet catfish, dogfish or manatee have hair, but hide, and they have live births.

Returning to the sharks, often these animals leave the sea and go up the rivers, and they are no less dangerous there than the large lizards of the Mainland, because the sharks also eat men, cows and mares, and they are very dangerous in river mouths where they are experienced and have already tasted human flesh.

Many of these sharks I have seen have a doubled reproductive member. What I want to say is that every shark has two penises or a pair of weapons, each one as large as from the elbow of a large man to the tip of the middle finger on his hand, and some larger and others smaller, proportional to the shark’s size; a shark that is seven or eight feet in length, or larger, has these weapons of the size I have mentioned. I do not know if they use them together during coitus, one at a time, or alternating; this particularity (the coitus) I have neither seen nor heard described, but I have seen many of them killed, and all the males have doubled instruments to procreate, and the females have only one organ. From this we can infer that the females have more potency to receive than the male to give. A common thing is to give such potency to the female sex; it happens that when killing some of the females shortly before they give birth, they find in the abdomen many small sharks. And I have seen some with many such small sharks, but not in as large a quantity as I have heard many times from Licenciado Alonso Zuazo, judge of this Audiencia Real, who saw thirty-five sharks removed from the abdomen of one of these animals, being this man and other Christians lost on the Alacranes Reef, as I will write further on, in the Last Book of the Shipwrecks. Zuazo is a gentleman and a man of much authority and someone to be given credit to, and others testify as much, though not claiming such high numbers.

[1] Pliny, Book IX, Chapter 15. [EE]