The Mediterranean Sea was calm and warm as the fisherman cast his hooks. The man’s boat was small and, unlike the triremes he could see in the distance, not designed for war or many people. But that was okay, the man was content to sit and fish and enjoy the sun. The Peloponnesian Greek coastline was a comforting neighbor on the horizon.
A long slender fin rose out of the water next to him, cutting through the ocean’s surface. It circled once and dove. A second later there was a tug on the line. The man, who had been watching it with interest, considered his options. Sharks could be difficult opponents, but worth the effort if you landed it. The fisherman snagged the line back, hooking the monstrous fish and starting the battle.
Later, he would return home, empty-handed. At the docks he would simply explain his loss by saying that he had caught an alopex, a fox, in the sea. The dockworkers should nod sagely and pat his shoulder. You can’t catch the alopex shark.
The fish these fictional fishers would have been referring to is the common thresher shark, Alopias vulpinus, a medium sized carnivore of the open ocean and Mediterranean. The shark’s unique tail, long and thin, give it our modern moniker, but the latin name still refers to it’s ancient reputation.
The shark was known as an extremely clever animal. When caught by fishermen, it wouldn’t struggle like any other fish, but instead double back towards the humans, biting through the fishing line and freeing itself. When their young were threatened the adults would seem to consume them bodily, hiding them and protecting them in their stomach. There is even later tales that say that these fish would team up with swordfish to kill whales. The two predators would alternatively slash and impale the larger animal until it died, then share in the feast.
Of course, these are simply myths. Untrue in the slightest. Still, perhaps it would have helped our ancient fisherman save a little face to simply shrug and explain his failure as just being unlucky enough to catch a fox.