Monday, August 9, 2010

Sea Quest

You know you live in Rhode Island when more people would rather see a yellow lobster than run into Jeri Ryan, the actress who played Seven of Nine in “Star Trek: Voyager” and starred in “Boston Public” and “Leverage,” and who can now be spotted filming scenes for the medical drama “Body of Proof” in the Ocean State. (She’s third from the left in the photo.)

The yellow lobster, a one-in-30-million find, was plucked from Narragansett Bay’s East Passage by Denny Ingram, and resided for a week in a blue basket inside a little shack selling lobster and crabs at the Fishermen’s Co-op on the State Pier in Newport before being donated to the University of Rhode Island Bay Campus in Narragansett for display and study. Since I chronicled my encounter with the rare crustacean on the paper side of things this week, I’ll spare my ink-stained Thursday readers the redundancy, but the trip also prompted thoughts on what an odd summer it has already been for sea creature sightings in these parts.

Although it remains nameless, the yellow lobster has received the most global press for a local marine animal since the mammal dubbed “the Warwick manatee” took the scenic route through Rhode Island a few summers ago. (I even remember a sign outside of Jim’s Dock with a drawing of the manatee, welcoming it to Jerusalem. The manatee, which eventually reached Cape Cod, reportedly snacked from a drainage pipe in Warwick on its journey. In the drawing at Jim’s Dock, the cartoon manatee claimed that the chowder and clam cakes tasted better in South County.)

Earlier this April, nearly 100 North Atlantic right whales – representing about a quarter of the entire population – were spotted cavorting just off Block Island. All summer, reports of great white sharks feasting on seals off Chatham on Cape Cod have raised anxieties among local beachgoers. The sighting of another shark last week off Horseneck Beach in Westport, just a stone’s throw away from Rhody, only increased the collective worry. Of course, fishermen have long known that Rhode Island waters are part of Shark Alley, a stretch that runs along the extreme Atlantic edge from Long Island to Block Island to Martha’s Vineyard to Nantucket, where some of the biggest and fiercest sharks in the world congregate. But it’s rare to see them so frequently close to shore. Then again, there’s a fishermen’s maxim: “Two summers of seals, then a summer of great whites.” With seal populations exploding in Narragansett Bay, we may all need a bigger boat.

Give the sharks credit, they’ve got great timing. The Horseneck Beach shark popped up on the first day of "Shark Week," the Discovery Channel’s seven-day extravaganza celebrating all things shark. As cable TV’s longest-running and most-watched series of programs, “Shark Week” is as much a part of popular culture as the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards. It also happens to be the 35th anniversary of “Jaws,” which was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard but is remembered fondly hereabouts as the movie in which Quint (Robert Shaw) drank Narragansett by the can.

This week’s question: What name should we give the yellow lobster?