The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me on the Potomac River was one summer, when I was paddling a canoe with my girlfriend, and a huge yacht full of people made a beeline for us. When they passed within a few feet, they threw down a six pack of beer and then chugged off. Ever since then, I’ve thought of the Potomac as a happy, benevolent river. But I have to remind myself that this is not true. The Potomac is actually a dangerous river teeming with aquatic predators that want to eat you. No, seriously. Let’s do a quick rundown of some of the worst.
Yes, there are sharks in the Potomac. Not the slow-moving, chubby sharks you see on nature shows that the narrator describes as harmless or vegetarian or whatever. These are bull sharks, which have huge sharp teeth and killed someone in Florida a few years ago. Bull sharks are one of the few shark species that can tolerate freshwater, so they’ll swim all the way up to the District in the summer. A fisherman caught an eight foot long one in 2015, and if those photos don’t send a chill down your spine, you must go to the beach wearing one of the old-fashioned cast iron diving bells.
Fishery managers introduced the non-native blue catfish into the Potomac, only to see them eat everything and grow to such massive proportions that they’ve been classified as “invasive” and there’s now a “seek and destroy” order out on them. This news story describes a lighthearted scene of two fisherman hauling four-foot-long, 60 pound catfish out of the river, and giggling as they slip in the “catfish slime” (??) that has coated the deck.
The thing about catfish, though, is that they live a really long time – some close to a hundred years. And since all they do is sit in underwater lairs and eat mud, they can get REALLY big. I grew up on the Mississippi, and my grandfather’s best pal, who worked for the railroad, always told a story about the time he dove into the river to help place charges on a rail bridge they were demolishing, and saw a 30 foot long catfish emerge from the dark and sluggishly snap at him. If it can happen there, it can happen here.
Legend has it that there’s a literal monster that lives in Chesapeake Bay – and it’s been sighted in the Potomac. The monster was first sighted in 1936 by a military helicopter, which reported something “reptilian and unknown in the water.” Since then, the monster has been sighted every few years. It’s been described as between 12 and 30 feet long, snake-like, with a football-shaped head. I’d like to note that one of the first sightings, in the Forties, described it as 12 feet long, and the most recent sighting, in 2014, described it as 25 to 30 feet long. That’s right, it’s growing.
During the 2014 sighting, two men in a car saw a 25-foot-long, black serpent-like creature break the surface of the water and then swim parallel to the shore with a undulating wiggling motion. I admit that the sheer fact that none of them took any photos for Instagram casts serious doubt on the story, but just to be safe, I’m still going to swear off swimming in the Potomac or any connected waterways forever.
Yes, there are dolphins in the Potomac. Hundreds of them. But dolphins are friendly, you’re thinking – they don’t belong on this list! Well, let me tell you what dolphins are – they’re smart. And the Potomac is filthy. So putting two and two together – as dolphins are perfectly capable of doing – the dolphins know we’re the ones flooding their river with sewage and oil runoff.
Oh, and by the way – they’re not really even friendly. A dolphin tried to drown someone recently in Europe, and researchers in Scotland have observed dolphins killing their own babies and bludgeoning hundreds of seals to death – not for food, but just because of homicidal urges. So to review – there are highly intelligent, depraved dolphins in the Potomac that know we’re ruining their habitat. I recommend you stay safely on land.
Not that it will help you much when it comes to this abomination. The Northern snakehead (sometimes known as the “Frankenfish”) is a terrifying prehistoric fish that has no natural predators and, in an alarmingly short span of time, has spread all over the world. How, you ask, can a fish travel the world? Well, this fish can survive for several days out of the water, and it can walk. So if its pond dries up, well, it can just pack its proverbial bags and stroll off to the next one. Or, in a more familiar context, it could stroll right up out of the Potomac, walk down M Street, and take a chunk out of your ankle as you’re waiting in line for a cupcake.
Scarily, the two largest snakeheads ever caught anywhere on earth were caught in the Potomac. The largest, an 18-pounder, had to be slain with a bow and arrow. Not gonna lie, it makes me feel a little safer in the world knowing that there are people out there killing huge ambulatory snake fish with arrows.