Dear Sun Spots: I am writing to you hoping you or Sun Spots column readers can assist me. I read an article in the Sun Journal on Aug. 31 in the Looking Back section of the paper. It was under the 100 Years Ago and was about a fish captured by the Passamaquoddy tribe of Indians near their settlement, five miles from Eastport. The fish – a name for which the Indians were awaiting – weighed about 500 pounds, was nearly round, about 5½ feet high, no tail, fitted with a fin, or wing on the back and belly, about 2½ feet long. The eyes and mouth were very small for such a large fish. The color dark, the skin hard and it was probable that some of the members would soon try out the oil, as that seemed to be about all the the fish was worth.

Could you, or perhaps a reader, please tell me what kind of fish this was? I would love to know. Thank you very much. – Brian Banner, Windham.

Answer:
In addition to responses from readers, Sun Journal News Assistant Anna Rodrigue kindly located the 1906 article. It notes an unknown fish, dark-colored skin, small eyes and mouth which is what led Sun Spots to wondering if, perhaps, it might have been a thresher. While the thresher appears to have a large tail, there is mention of a 500-pound one appearing in 1911 near Eastport, the same town mentioned in the 1906 article, and the same weight, fins also on the back, belly and side, which is what led Sun Spots to wonder if there was a chance it was the same variety. It also appears the Gulf of Maine has had sightings of the thresher several times. According to a publication, Fishery Bulletin, about the Fishes of The Gulf of Maine, by Henry B. Bigelow and William C. Schroeder and posted online at www.gma.org, the thresher is easily distinguished from all other Gulf of Maine sharks by its long tail. It is dark brown, blue-slate, slate gray, blue gray, leaden or even nearly black above, often with metallic luster, grading on the sides to white below, except that the snout and the lower surface of the pectorals are usually about as dark below as above. The sides near the pectorals may be more or less mottled with gray, the belly also. The iris is black or green.

The thresher does not harm human beings. It has often been seen off the southern coast of New England and in some numbers. Three about 16 feet long have been taken near Woods Hole, for example, and it has been classed as the commonest of the large sharks off Block Island. Scattered specimens are also known to have visited the Gulf of Maine; two have been reported in Nantucket; several in Pollock Rip, off the southern angle of Cape Cod on August 4, 1913; and it has been reported repeatedly on the coast of Massachusetts, Cape Cod Bay, and localities in Massachusetts Bay.

Records for it along the coast of Maine include the vicinity of Monhegan Island, east of Matinicus Island, the offing of Penobscot Bay where one weighing about 500 pounds (estimated) was caught in 1911 and another seen in 1911, in the vicinity of Eastport. It has also been taken in the cold waters of Passamaquoddy Bay; one for instance in a weir at Deer Island, Aug. 28, 1936.

Another possibility is that the fish is a porbeagle or mackerel shark, as it’s known. The 1906 article also mentions the use of the fish for oil, which is what led Sun Spots to consider the porbeagle or mackerel shark. The above Web site notes that the liver oil of the porbeagle, mixed with other fish oils, was in demand for use in tanning leather during the first quarter of the 19th century.

Again, the mackerel shark is dark bluish gray to bluish black again having been sighted and landed in Eastport, Maine. Only two longer than feet have been recorded previously from the Gulf of Maine, one of which was 10 feet, the largest recorded from either side of the North Atlantic.

Other readers might also be able to enlighten you about the fish.

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