GRAND RAPIDS, Minn.—Joey Piskel and his dad, Joe, had quite a surprise when they were walleye fishing in the Mississippi River in northern Minnesota on opening day last weekend.
What they first thought was a muskie jaw turned out to be the 10-inch-wide jawbone from either a sand tiger or mako shark, which are found in subtropical or tropical saltwater seas.
Joey Piskel, 32, who lives in Bemidji, said it was about 2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 13, and they had just caught a nice 21-inch walleye when his dad thought maybe they had landed another.
Instead, the 59-year-old Grand Rapids business owner pulled up the jawbone.
They put it in a bag to preserve it and continued to fish.
After they posted a photo of the jawbone on Facebook, the word started getting out and people were speculating on what it was.
It ended up on the Fishing Minnesota Facebook page and took off from there.
So on Monday, May 15, Joe Piskel took the jawbone to the regional Minnesota Department of Natural Resources office where a fisheries biologist identified it as a sand tiger shark jawbone.
"The shark can only survive in salt water," said Cheri Zeppelin, the Grand Rapids DNR office's public information officer. "So there is no way it had survived in the river. There are also many dams south of there that would prohibit it from being where they snagged it."
Zeppelin said only a jawbone was found and not a skeleton, which raises more questions. "We can only speculate on how it got there," she said.
Joey Piskel, however, believes someone probably dumped the shark in the waters as the river is easily accessible there with a road nearby.
He said people sometimes actually raise sharks in their basements or garages, and that maybe it got too big and they thought it was more humane to just toss it in the river instead of killing it.
Of course, there are Mississippi River legends that sharks roam in what is perhaps the country's greatest river. One photo of a pair of great white sharks in the Mississippi near St. Louis actually turned out to be a photo from Costa Rica.
Joey Piskel said the jawbone, which "really stunk," has been soaked in hydrogen peroxide to clean it up and is now drying out.
The father and son plan to mount it and put it in his father's auto shop in Grand Rapids.
"My dad and I are really close and this is just another great memory," Joey Piskel said.