A shark named Mueller (and Cool Beans, and FLASH, and Jack...)
Admittedly, the Brennan family’s newest pet does not provide much in the way of unconditional love. It’s not particularly affectionate. And unlike their dog, a Shih Tzu-Maltese mix named Cody, it has little interest in curling up on a couch.
Still, family members insist, it boasts plenty of positive qualities.
“You don’t have to clean up after it,” Dan Brennan notes.
Turns out, you can adopt a shark — in this case, a 12-foot-long, roughly 1,500-pound great white they’ve named Heady Chomper who is currently lurking somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
For those still battling a Spielberg-induced phobia, it might not be immediately clear why you’d want a shark, given the fear they’ve been known to bring to the summer beach season. Around here, this time of year brings all kinds of close encounters, not to mention beach closings. In the past week alone, four great whites were spotted between Truro and Provincetown, and panicked swimmers fled the water at Nauset Beach when a shark attacked a seal close to shore. A recent video captured by a group of fishermen off the coast of the Cape showed a great white devouring a large portion of a striped bass they’d hooked. It quickly went viral.
Along with the fear, we clearly harbor fascination with the fearsome predators, to the point that sharks are good business. Shark merchandise, from T-shirts to bedspreads and action figures, is ubiquitous these days. And “Shark Week” — the Discovery Channel’s annual, weeklong collection of shark-related programming — recently celebrated its 30th anniversary by opening the week with a number of heavily viewed shows.
That fascination is at least part of the reason that the Cape Cod-based Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, a group devoted to research and education, decided there might be a way to help fund its work.
Launched in 2016, their shark-naming program allows anyone who makes a $2,500 donation to “adopt” their own great white shark. In exchange, adopters receive naming rights and, upon the shark’s tagging by the conservancy, an underwater photo and some basic information, including the shark’s size and tagging date.
“It beats a tote bag,” says Brennan.
At the moment, there are a dozen or so adopted sharks stalking the Atlantic — all of which feature names selected by their adopters.
There’s Agnes and Amy, Jack and FLASH. There is Chex, named by a young boy in Texas who raised the necessary funds to pay for a shark adoption. And the Brennans’ Heady Chomper, a play off the Vermont-based beer Heady Topper.
And after President Trump’s reported disdain for sharks was made public earlier this year — the adult film star Stormy Daniels told In Touch Weekly that Trump told her he hoped all sharks would die — an anonymous donor named a shark Mueller.
“Some people know right away, because they have someone they want to name it after,” says Cynthia Wigren, chief executive officer at the conservancy. “And some people take some time to figure out what they want to name the shark.”
Beyond the name, though, many adopters have come to forge surprisingly indelible bonds with their adopted sharks.
Since adopting Cool Beans — a roughly 13½-foot, 1,400-pound shark named after their Bichon poodle — the Sirridge family has regularly followed its movements via the Sharktivity app, which allows users to keep tabs on tagged sharks that venture into certain areas. They’ve spotted it creeping along near the Carolinas and gallivanting near Georgia. A couple months back, they were at home in suburban Kansas City, watching a PBS program on shark tagging, when suddenly Cool Beans made a cameo.
“We’re like, ‘Oh my God! There’s our shark on TV!’ ” says Lisa.
Asked how hopeful they are that they’ll encounter Cool Beans during a trip to the Cape in the not-too-distant future, Christopher Sirridge replies, “We go to church and pray that she’ll come back. That’s how hopeful we are.”
In Provincetown, Stephanie Page and her wife, Meredith Kurkjian Lobur, have long spent their summers on a boat, armed with an underwater GoPro camera, searching the water for sharks.
So when Page was in search of a birthday gift for Lobur a couple years back, naming a shark for her seemed like a perfect idea.
Today, the couple gets a jolt of excitement every time their cellphones buzz with a notification from the Sharktivity app, and they’re eagerly awaiting the day FLASH — named for the nickname of Lobur’s grandfather — makes another appearance on the Cape.
“We just don’t want to get eaten by our own shark,” says Lobur. “That would be really embarrassing.”
And then there’s the story of Jack.
Blond-haired and blue-eyed, the Lincroft, N.J., youngster quickly developed a boyhood obsession with sharks, thanks in large part to summer vacations on the Cape. He gobbled up every shark-related thing he could get his hands on. Once, for Halloween, he dressed as a lifeguard coming out of a shark’s mouth. Another time, for a birthday party, the family brought in beach chairs and one of those big, blow-up screens and had a special backyard screening of “Jaws.”
“He would tell us more things about sharks,” says his mother, Colleen Esposito, “than we could ever possibly retain.”
When cancer arrived, in August 2014, he was immediately put into treatment, and the family — after learning that his particular form of leukemia had a high recovery rate — remained hopeful. But following a relapse and bone marrow transplant, things went downhill. Two years ago, at the age of 12, Jack died.
In the aftermath, a family friend — hoping to honor Jack’s memory — arranged to have a shark adopted in Jack’s name, and last summer, representatives from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy tagged Jack the shark, a 10-plus-foot great white.
In the months since, the family has come to adore the shark, Esposito says.
Though they check the app regularly, Jack the shark hasn’t made an appearance on Cape Cod. Not yet.
But this week, the family will be traveling to Yarmouth Port for a few days of vacation, and they’ve discussed the possibility — however remote — of a reunion.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if we were on the Cape,” Esposito says, “and Jack was there, too?”