In 1950 a Shark Swam Into the Gowanus Canal; the NYPD Used it for Target Practice

05/05/2010 12:55 PM |

mutant shark

Fun fact for all you waterfront park/drink/concert fans: until about the mid-19th century New York Harbor was full of really big sharks, especially the East River, where 8- to 12-footers swam up and down the waterfront looking for scraps from boats, markets and factories, and kittens. Though the finned scavengers weren’t seen much after that, one large shark did swim up the Gowanus Canal in 1950 only to be shot by the NYPD, an incident that blog Carrol Gardens Diary recently delved into. The most detailed account of that fateful fish killing appears in John Waldman’s harbor history book Heartbeat in the Muck, excerpted after the jump.

Gowanus shark

This is how it went down:

“Without doubt the most noteworthy biological event within the canal’s industrial history was the appearance of a large shark in 1950… Fittingly, it is a dismal scene—policemens bullets spray the water near the creature as hundreds of people watch along the bulkheads.”

The strange event, photographed in dramatic, police shoot-out detail above, would probably play out differently today, with the shark either dying from toxic sludge before anyone noticed it, or possibly mutating into some kind of super-shark.

Meanwhile, here’s an artist’s rendering of a modern-day Gowanus shark scenario: