February 13 2004
From Dr. Coppleson's Book
Printed 1958
It is uncertain how the word "shark" displaced "tiburon" in the
English tongue, but it appears to have come into use about 1569 when the
sailors of Sir John Hawkin's expedition brought home a specimen and
exhibited it in London. As the years passed, sailors became more
shark-conscious. The accompanying illustration appeared in a journal
in which Barlow, a seventeenth century seaman, and contemporary of the
buccanner Dampier, described a voyage from Madeira to Rio de Janeiro
in 1663. He wrote:

"Many times sharks, which are thereabouts in abundance, will keep
company with the ship and will take anything that is heaved overboard,
they are so hungry and ravenous and will seize upon any man, if he
should be swimming in the water, so that in some places men, as they have
been swimming for recreation, have had their legs bitten off and also have
been carried quite away and never seen more, so that great heed must be
taken to them where anyone is swimming where the fish are."

Early records of sharks are hard to trace. The ancient Egyptians, for
instance, apparently were unaware of their existence. In their Book of
the Dead and other writings, they referred to many creatures including
crocodiles, pythons, cobras, frogs and fishes, all of which were
represented by various animal gods. But sharks have no place in the
history of the Pharaohs nor are they mentioned in the Bible.

Even centuries after the first Egyptian dynasties had crumbled, little was
known about the different types of sea creatures. Historians of those
bygone eras referred to to all large marine creatures without distinction
by the Greek word ketos or the Hebrew word tannin. Early translators
have invariably transcribed  these words in the Bible and other writings
as either "great fishes" or 'dragons'. Linnaeus, the great Swedish
naturalist (1707-78) said he believed the 'great fish that swallowed
Jonah' was a great white shark and not a whale as popularly supposed.

With the passing of time, the Greeks not only drew a distinction between
sharks and other sea monsters but they began to differentiate between
various species. Early Grecian culture is studded with legends about
sharks and their ilk. Aristotle's knowledge of sharks was amazingly
detailed. His writings  refer to the smooth shark (Mustelus levis) and
the spiny dog fish (Acanthias vulgaris), the fox or threshes shark and
the great blue shark.

But without exception, sharks were not distinguished from other large
sea creatures until after the Middle Ages. There is reason, for instance,
to believe that the famous monster in the medieval literature known
as the Porphyry, which rampaged in the waters near Byzantium about
500 A.D.. and was destroyed by Procopious, was a shark and not
a whale.

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