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The Mysterious Shark Attack in Lake Michigan

Sharks have prowled our planet’s oceans since before we were even a twinkle in the eye of the grand scheme of things. For eons these sleek torpedoes of gaping maws and teeth have hunted in our oceans, and since we have been aware of them have captured our attention. They fan out hunting and killing as they always have, but what really gets our attention is when they feed on us. While many may think of shark attacks as the realm of the oceans and seas of our world, this seems to not always be the case, and there has been unsettling shark activity in the freshwater areas of our planet as well.

Sprawled out through the U.S. states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan is the majestic Lake Michigan, one of Great Lakes of North America, and at a size roughly slightly larger than the state of Virginia it is the second largest of these giants. A wondrous and vast body of water known for its generous beachfront, earning it the nickname of America’s “Third Coast,” Lake Michigan draws in all manner of tourists and locals looking to engage in the various recreational activities the lake has to offer. While this “Third Coast” might sport beautiful beaches and water sports, one would think that this would be the last place to find sharks, but surprisingly there have been reports of these creatures lurking in the depths here, and even at least one attack.

According to the 1975 book Man Eating Sharks! by Felix Dennis, on a beautiful, clear summer day in 1955, one beach along the shores of Lake Michigan was packed with people looking to cool off and enjoy the sunny day, and one of these was George Lawson, a boy from Chicago. Lawson was out with many others splashing about and swimming off a boat near the beach when witnesses allegedly saw him pulled underwater, seemingly by something yanking him under and accompanied by the boy’s panicked screams. Shockingly, a dorsal fin was reported by several others on the boat as cutting away through the water right after the incident.

One man named John Adler managed to reach the thrashing boy and pull him aboard the boat, where it was found that the victim was entirely missing one of his legs below the knee. Adler would say of his thoughts as Lawson writhed about and the pool of blood spread in front of stunned witnesses, “I just couldn’t believe it, but I had to believe what I saw happening right before my eyes!” Lawson was rushed to the hospital, where doctors apparently were quick to recognize the bite wound as having been inflicted by a shark.

This was understandably rather shocking, as this had been in a freshwater lake well inland and nowhere near the ocean. However, it was ascertained that it had perhaps been a bull shark that had made its way up to the lake by way of the Illinois River. This is actually not impossible, as bull sharks are well-known for their spooky ability to easily acclimate to freshwater, tolerating it for long periods and in some cases indefinitely, and they are definitely aggressive, blamed for all manner of attacks on humans. While it would have been quite a distance to travel for a bull shark, there have been reports of these creatures making their way hundreds of miles inland through river systems. For instance, bull sharks have been found up the Mississippi River as far as Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Bull shark

Indeed, in September of 1937, two fishermen named “Dudge” Collins and Herbert Copes began to notice that something was ransacking and damaging their fish traps in the Mississippi River near Alton, Illinois. They at first guessed that it was a particularly massive catfish, and went about trying to catch it in a seine net. The plan worked, and they began to haul up something very large and very pissed off, but rather than the granddaddy catfish they expected to pull up instead they found it to be a bull shark that measured over five-feet long and weighed 84 pounds, thrashing and biting rather threateningly. Besides the extreme distance from the ocean, authorities insisted that the dam system at Alton should have kept any bull shark from reaching the area, making its presence there very mysterious indeed.

Bull sharks have even been known to brave the extraordinarily the frigid waters of these northern locales. In the autumn of 2005 shark teeth were found along the Minnehaha creek, a very cold creek not far from the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, which were analyzed and found to be those of a juvenile bull shark and dated as being very recent. When officials went about using electric shocks to stun the river fish of the area in an effort to find any sharks in the creek they were stunned themselves to capture two healthy juvenile bull sharks that had been lurking there alive and well. The sharks were apparently then sent to the Minnesota zoo and survived the ordeal. The whole incident would cause the creek to be closed off to swimming, just in case.

In February of that next year, a truck fell through the ice of Lake Pepin, which is more or less just a wide area of the Mississippi between Wisconsin and Minnesota. While the driver survived unharmed, salvage divers who went to in investigate the sunken vehicle got quite a fright when they discovered a full grown 5-foot long bull shark taking refuge in the wreck, lurking there in the murk. It was weak and dying from the cold, but it was still very much alive, and no doubt a frightening sight to see ensconced there at the bottom of a lake within this sunken hull. Interestingly, there is a lake monster said to prowl Lake Pepin, the has been affectionately called “Pepie,” so one wonders if sharks are to blame for this phenomenon.

Coming back to Lake Michigan, it is incredible that there was yet another shark report in the days after this event. Anglers Gil Scharnek and Cal Lukasavitz were reportedly out on the lake one day when they spied what they at first thought to be a piece of debris or flotsam. A seagull had been perched upon it and alighted when the men approached, revealing something altogether stranger. As they approached they could see that it was some type of shark, and they collected it to put it on ice. Later analysis showed that it was a blacktip shark, which is very odd since not only is the lake far from their habitat, but they have no known tolerance for fresh water. Curious indeed. In recent years there was even recent video footage taken of a supposed shark in Lake Michigan near a place called McKinley beach. Is it real or fake?

This all seems to show that this attack in Lake Michigan is at least plausible, but did it ever really happen? Was this shark attack of 1955 real or just a hoax and piece of “fake news”? It seems that in this day and age the dams and levees leading up to the lake would prevent something so sinister from creeping in, but has there ever been a shark or sharks prowling Lake Michigan and if so are they still there? At this point no one really knows.