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Shark Calling in Papua New Guinea

On the South Pacific island of New Ireland, tribes relatively untouched by Western influences practice the dying art of shark calling.
On the South Pacific island of New Ireland, tribes relatively untouched by Western influences practice the dying art of shark calling.

I became interested in shark calling when I met shark enthusiasts like myself who had visited the remote island of New Ireland off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

A few of the younger villagers in Kontu.

I arrived at the village of Kontu and was introduced to Selam, who's known as the greatest shark caller on the island. He agreed to take me out to observe the "ways of the shark" for a fee.

The shark callers believe that the spirits of their ancestors reside in the body of the mako shark, and that calling the ancestors beckons the shark to come to them. If the shark answers the call, the shark caller entices it to the side of the canoe and slips a loop of vine over its head as he strokes it and then clubs it to death.

We left one morning before dawn. Selam wiped the canoe and its contents with special herbs, and we paddled about 2 kilometers offshore. He then began to act as if he was spearing at the coral to arouse the spirit of the shark god, Moro, followed by rattling his coconut husks and chanting a soft tune.

Suddenly a seven-foot mako shark appeared, making a slow circling motion around our canoe. It swam cautiously around our canoe for three minutes and then left as quickly as it had arrived.

At this point, I’m trying to figure out if the shark was lured by the noise from the coconut rattle in the water – or was it just by chance that it appeared?

We spent another six hours on the water without seeing another shark…so you won’t necessarily see a shark when you call one. There are only two veteran shark callers left on the island, so this is definitely a dying art.

A Kontu child in tribal dress.

The best time to go to New Ireland is during the dry season, from May to October.

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On the South Pacific island of New Ireland, tribes relatively untouched by Western influences practice the dying art of shark calling.
On the South Pacific island of New Ireland, tribes relatively untouched by Western influences practice the dying art of shark calling.

I became interested in shark calling when I met shark enthusiasts like myself who had visited the remote island of New Ireland off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

A few of the younger villagers in Kontu.

I arrived at the village of Kontu and was introduced to Selam, who's known as the greatest shark caller on the island. He agreed to take me out to observe the "ways of the shark" for a fee.

The shark callers believe that the spirits of their ancestors reside in the body of the mako shark, and that calling the ancestors beckons the shark to come to them. If the shark answers the call, the shark caller entices it to the side of the canoe and slips a loop of vine over its head as he strokes it and then clubs it to death.

We left one morning before dawn. Selam wiped the canoe and its contents with special herbs, and we paddled about 2 kilometers offshore. He then began to act as if he was spearing at the coral to arouse the spirit of the shark god, Moro, followed by rattling his coconut husks and chanting a soft tune.

Suddenly a seven-foot mako shark appeared, making a slow circling motion around our canoe. It swam cautiously around our canoe for three minutes and then left as quickly as it had arrived.

At this point, I’m trying to figure out if the shark was lured by the noise from the coconut rattle in the water – or was it just by chance that it appeared?

We spent another six hours on the water without seeing another shark…so you won’t necessarily see a shark when you call one. There are only two veteran shark callers left on the island, so this is definitely a dying art.

A Kontu child in tribal dress.

The best time to go to New Ireland is during the dry season, from May to October.

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Comments
1

Strange custom; calling in your ancestor and then clubbing them to death. Can't say I've ever heard of shark calling. Now, when I go up to Lake Cuyamaca to do some trout fishing, I always bring my trout whistle. Now that brings those trout right to my hook. You can't call them--you have to use the whistle.

Oct. 8, 2012

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