1. The Sharks of Chatham
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“Off the Coast of Chatham”
Kit: Pegasus 1/18 Great White Shark
Date: Oct 2013
History: The Grey Seal is a large species of seal that can reach a weight of well over 800 pounds. It is commonly found in the northern areas of both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Aggressively hunted during the last century, its numbers had waned to the point that it was virtually extinct in New England except for a few small colonies that existed in Maine. In 1972 Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act which granted federal protection status to the seals, and since then their numbers have rebounded strongly. The town of Chatham, Massachusetts, a popular summer destination on the “elbow” of Cape Cod, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of seals that make its sandy coastal areas their home. But the increase in the number of seals has also brought about an increase in the number of their main predator - the Great White Shark (cue scary shark music…).
Here in the Boston area reports of White Shark sightings off of Chatham have become so routine lately that we take it for granted, but it is a fairly new phenomenon. It is only in the last ten years or so that the Whites off of Chatham have garnered significant media attention. But if the Cape hasn’t always been a White Shark hot spot like the Great Barrier Reef or the tip of South Africa, you’d never know it. An active shark tracking unit, the Cape Cod Shark Hunters (see their excellent website for more information) now track the sharks using aircraft and boats, and avid watchers of the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” might be familiar with shows like “Return of Jaws” and “Jaws Comes Home”. With thousands of seals now a permanent part of the Cape’s landscape, the sharks are here to stay.
In terms of interactions between people and the Cape’s sharks, researchers are quick to point out there hasn’t been a fatal shark attack in Massachusetts waters since 1936. The summer of 2012 saw a well-publicized attack on a man in the waters north of Chatham however (he survived with damage to both legs, not to mention he probably filled his trunks), and logic would suggest that as shark populations continue to rise, one day the inevitable will happen. One thing that might help prevent us New Englanders from routinely becoming shark food; cold Cape water! While there are many brave souls who surf, boogie board, and swim, cool water temperatures here in the northeast generally keeps the masses safely on land reading and planning their next trip to the ice cream stand. That Florida, Hawaii, and California lead the country in shark attacks may have more to do with numbers of people in the water than anything else.
The White Shark is a truly amazing animal. It is the largest meat-eating fish in the world; routinely reaching sizes over 16 feet in length and 1 ton in weight. To attain that size it feeds on large fish, small whales, dolphins, and of course, seals. In recent years researchers studying Whites off of South Africa have discovered that the sharks often leap completely out of the water when pursuing their prey. Numerous documentaries have been made (the “Air Jaws” series being the main one) showing these huge sharks rocketing up from the bottom to attack a seal that is swimming on the surface. The images of such attacks are dramatic and unforgettable, with the seal often clenched in the massive shark’s jaws in mid-air, or in the case of a near miss, cartwheeling violently through the air. Often when the shark misses the seal the hunt continues with the shark trying to track down the seal and the seal frantically trying to get away. The seal can often win out, ironically by staying close to the shark and using its greater maneuverability and tighter turning ability to evade those deadly jaws until the shark tires out.
Pegasus announced their intention to bring out a scale model of a Great White Shark over a year ago, and it finally hit store shelves this spring. When I heard about it I thought about constructing a diorama showing the shark breaching the water with a small seal flying through the air just inches from the shark’s jaws. The only problem was I didn’t have a model seal to accompany the model shark. I then discovered Mantis Miniatures, a company from Poland that makes a line of high quality resin armor and wildlife figures. In one of their wildlife sets they produce a small resin seal, the size of which is perfect to be a seal “pup” (or lunch…) in my diorama.
Perusing some online images of Great Whites leaping, I soon picked one out that would act as the inspiration for my scene. In the shot the shark has just burst from the water’s surface and is about 2/3rds out of the water, its jaws wide open and twisting as it tries to seize its prey. With a printout of that picture in hand, I was ready to begin.
The Kit: The Pegasus Great White Shark is a combination injected-molded plastic and vinyl model kit. The shark itself is made of vinyl, and it’s big and heavy. Like many vinyl kits the parts count is low; this one has just the shark’s body, dorsal fin, tail, pectoral fins, and then smartly, two different heads. The two heads give you the choice of modeling your shark with its mouth closed, as if it’s out cruising, or with its mouth wide open, as if it’s out attacking.
The kit also includes parts to make a scuba diver in a large shark cage. A flat base is also included, as are posts to mount the finished shark and cage in a diorama setting. Detail is at a high level – for instance, the shark’s lower jaw realistically features a couple rows of teeth. Pegasus has done a good job capturing the menacing bulk and power of this awesome creature.
Construction of the Shark: Construction started off with the shark’s head. Choosing the “attacking” head, I first had to clean up the parts’ seams. With a vinyl kit you cannot scrape the seams away with your knife (the vinyl is too soft); you have to trim them away carefully. Once this was done I glued the lower jaw piece in place using CA glue (regular styrene glues won’t work on vinyl), and then attacked the seam with Squadron Green Putty and Mr. Surfacer 500. After a few passes of both I moved on to the shark’s body, and here’s where I recorded a “first” for me in my modeling career – using a miter saw to cut a model part.
Since I was going to be posing the shark dramatically leaping out of the water, I had to cut its body just behind the dorsal fin. To cut through the large vinyl piece, I held it firmly in my miter saw and let the blade fly. When the vinyl shards settled I next glued the head assembly to the body, and then tackled that seam.
The dorsal and pectoral fins went on next, and a couple of swipes of Mr. Surfacer 500 were all that was needed to fill the seams. With that I grabbed my mini-Jaws and headed to the airbrush booth.
Painting the Shark: For a primer I used Tamiya’s Fine Surface Primer, sprayed right from the can. Since the Great White Shark’s belly is – I hope you’re sitting down – white, I next airbrushed the shark’s undersides Tamiya XF-2 Flat White. Pictures of the real thing show slight pinkish and flesh-colored shades around the sharks’ mouth and pectoral fins, so I made a slightly pink mix of Testors White and Red and subtly sprayed it into and around the shark’s mouth and fins.
Before spraying the gray of the shark’s upper body I masked off the white undersides with Silly Putty. I then airbrushed Testors Dark Gull Gray onto the upper surfaces, followed by some Testors Gunship Gray on the uppermost surfaces and dorsal fin for more variation.
In order to make the shark look more realistic I borrowed some techniques from the armor modeling world. I added some scratches and “chips” around the animal’s mouth and snout using a couple different shades of pink and gray, and then mixed a homemade filter of heavily thinned medium gray and painted it over the entire model. I added a reddish wash to the insides of the mouth, and then picked out the teeth in white. I painted the eyes black, and with that the shark was done.
Construction of the Base: For the diorama’s base I choose to use a piece of ½” thick MDF that I cut with a jigsaw. I painted it white with some BIN primer, and then airbrushed various shades of Tamiya blue onto it. I then glued the completed shark onto it using Walthers “Goo”.
In order to construct realistic-looking ocean waves I decided to try sculpting waves out of a material called Liquitex Gloss Super Heavy Gel Medium. This is an artist’s material that looks like a white paste and dries transparent. Using an old (well it’s old now…) spatula, the “blade” of which I cut down to about half its original size, I spread the gel onto my base, trying to sculpt waves as I went. The process reminded me very much of icing a cake. Letting the medium dry overnight, I added more “waves” the next night, a process I repeated a few times to make the ocean’s surface more three dimensional and less flat.
At this point I arrived at what I knew was going to be the chief challenge of this project - modeling realistic splashing effects around the shark. Having never done anything like that before, I went online for ideas and eventually found an article in Tamiya Model Magazine #123 entitled “Splash Down” by Stefan Bernet. The article details how the author created neat splashing effects in a landing craft diorama using pieces of the white abrasive part of kitchen sponges and gel medium. Procuring some white kitchen sponges, I removed said white scrubby surfaces and tore them up into randomly shaped pieces. I then glued them around the shark using white glue and once that was dry, I coated them on both sides with the gel medium. At this point they still looked too flat, so I glued tufts of torn up cotton balls here and there around the bases of the sponge pieces to try to “fill out” the various splashes. Painting the gel medium on the cotton ball pieces caused the cotton to flatten out a bit, so I glued smaller sponge pieces onto them. It took a few nights of attaching the pieces and coating them with medium before I was satisfied with the look of it all, though it seems like it’s one of those endeavors where you could spend forever working on it and still not be completely happy with the result.
Painting the Seal: The Mantis seal came in a “holding its head up” position and I needed him to be in more of a “Holy Crap a giant shark is trying to eat me” position, so I chopped off his head and lowered it, filling the resulting seam with putty. I then painted him Vallejo Black Gray, and then added his gray spots using the damp sponge technique and some Testors Dark Gull Gray. To pose him on the edge of the shark’s mouth I knew he would need to be pinned, so I trimmed a piece off of a sewing needle and carefully drilled a hole in the shark and another one in the seal’s tail flipper. The pin worked nicely.
The same Mantis set that supplied the seal also supplied the sea gull (it’s a “Coastal Creatures” sort of set), and the final step was to give everything a good coat of Future to add a glossy, watery sheen. With that, my Air Jaws diorama was complete.
Conclusions: I had a lot of fun building a model of a creature that has always fascinated me, and I highly recommend Pegasus’ model to any interested party. It might be the first mainstream model of a wildlife subject we’ve seen since the old 1970s vintage Revell Endangered Species kits. I hope Pegasus and other companies will keep coming out with new and unique kits like this in the future. Who knows, maybe this can be the first in a line of “man-eater” kits – bring on the lions and tigers and crocodiles!
- Osprey Publications, Combat Animals in Action #1, “Great White Shark Units of Eastern North America, 1999-2013”
- Tamiya Model Magazine International #123, “Splash Down”, Stefan Bernet
- Wikipedia, the Online Encyclopedia