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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/75

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THE SHOVEL-NOSED SHARK.

THE SHOVEL-NOSED SHARK.
By Lady VERNEY.

THE following sketch from Nature (Fig. 1) represents the jaw of a young shark—a tender innocent, indeed, for, if his life had not been cut short by cruel Fate, he would have attained to the dignity of nine rows of teeth, instead of the poor five which, as you may see inside the mouth, this little victim had been obliged to put up with. A shark's age is counted by the number of rows—and his jaws are the most awful engine of destruction which exists in the animal world: the best possible means that could be devised to seize, to cut and tear, and finally to hold fast any slippery subject, though of no use to chew or masticate.

Still there seems a superfluity of naughtiness in this array of edges and serrated points, set thus, one range following up another, as shown in Fig. 2. What could he want with five rows of teeth? It is almost dangerous to run one's finger over them; the points are like knives, the jagged edges along the finely-modulated curves of each three-cornered tooth are so keenly sharp.

There is a sort of hinge in the middle of both upper and lower jaw, and from this centre the teeth point different ways, gradually diminishing to a mere root. Each is a brightly polished piece of ivory, and each little jag of the graduated saws is exquisitely finished, and varies according to its position. The mouth in question only measures nine and eleven inches across, and is about two feet round, but in a full-grown monster the jaws are wide enough to pass over a man's shoulders without touching them. The snout is rounded, with very small eyes almost at the top of his head.

The shark is the scavenger of the sea, the equivalent of the hyena on land, and he swallows whole whatever offal is flung overboard from the ships bolting it without any action of the teeth, unless when his prey is too large to go conveniently down his throat, and he breaks it up as it passes.

The stomach-coats are extremely strong, and some action seems to go on in it to prepare the food for the gastric juice, as a substitute for the mastication with which other warm-blooded animals reduce it to a pulp in their mouth.

He is so fearless in his voracity, and follows a ship so pertinaciously, that his habits are better known than most of the sea-denizens, and familiarity does not certainly in this instance breed either respect or affection.

With the passengers on board the merchant-vessels to and from Australia, shark-fishing is a favorite pastime. One of these, lately