Cape Breton Boat Stalker

Get out of that boat!

In the iconic movie JAWS, Chief Brody’s wife tries to assure him that their son is safe sitting in a small sailboat tied up at the dock—that is until she opens a book that Brody has been reading—and sees the image of a great white shark smashing through the hull of a dory manned by two fishermen.It’s a pivotal moment in the movie, a bit of foreshadowing that implies a person is NOT safe in a boat when there’s a shark around—a fact that Quint, Hooper and Brody discover later on their famous voyage.

Into the National Geographic

The book isn’t exactly a book, but rather a dummy volume assembled by the JAWS props department with bloody images of sharks and shark attack victims inserted to make a terrifying point. And the image that abruptly changes Mrs. Brody’s sense of security on the water is actually a painting by American artist Paul Calle, that was commissioned by National Geographic Magazine and appeared in the February 1968 issue.

NG CoverNG_Spread

Truth stranger than fiction

Now, to be sure, most of the time you ARE safe from any marauding sharks when on a seaworthy boat of any relative size. And the events in JAWS are pretty far-fetched. However, there have been strange occurrences when natural behaviour has almost mirrored that of fantasy fiction. And Paul Calle’s National Geographic Painting depicts one such occurrence that took place off Nova Scotia in 1953.

In the small fishing village of Fourchu—on the southeastern coast of Cape Breton Island—commercial fishermen John D. Burns and John MacLeod set out daily in Burn’s dory to haul traps for lobsters. Their boat was one of many that dotted the sea seeking the prized crustacean—but only Burns’ had a white-painted hull.


Every day for nearly a week, a tell-tale triangular dorsal fin rose behind the white-hulled dory and followed it as it left the harbour. Day after day the other fishermen watched in disbelief as the shark stalked Burns’ and MacLeod’s boat, then disappear beneath the swells.

But on July 9th—as the dory drifted alone—the shark charged up from the deep, smashing an 8-inch hole through the bottom of the boat. Burns and MacLeod were thrown violently into the water. Burns drowned in the heavy seas. MacLeod, however, clung cold and forlorn to the hull of Burns’ damaged dory and was rescued hours later.

South Africa 025

Curiously, the shark did not return after its initial—and only—strike against the boat. After the boat was retrieved, an incriminating tooth fragment was removed from the hole in the dory’s hull. Ichthyologist William C. Schroeder of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, identified this tooth fragment as having been lost by a White Shark about 12 feet long and weighing 1,100 to 1,200 pounds.


Always that one time . . .

It makes me think when I hear the old “you’re more likely get hit by lightning or die of a bee sting” argument against the fear of a sharks. The statement is true, but I would caution a healthy respect for these apex predators. I love sharks, and I swim and dive in the ocean. However, even if you love lions, it would be nerve-wracking to walk around the Serengeti in a pair of swim trunks. I still occasionally get a disconcerting tingle on the back of my neck when I’m in their habitat, because people DO get hit by lightning, and just when you think it isn’t possible . . .

4 comments on “Cape Breton Boat Stalker

  1. What an excellent article! Sorry I missed this till now – informative, pithy, entertaining, and cool. Thanks so much for the great read.

  2. James Ford

    Thank you for this information on the painting I had been trying to find out the name, this was really helpful
    James Ford

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