The curious case of the shark on the bike path

Or, local news meets maritime misadventure.

Composite image (OR IS IT?!): Dario Gomes/Chase Baker/Unsplash

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 08.05.2024 Photography by
Chase Baker, Dario Gomes (both Unsplash) and TVMidtvest (screenshots)
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Every once in a while – if, hypothetically, you’re scrolling through regional Danish news websites looking at pictures of Jonas Vingegaard’s very nice new house in central Jutland – you come to the ‘further reading’ section at the bottom and stumble across a story so bizarre that you immediately feel dizzy. “There’s a what on the where?,” you might mutter under your breath, eyes widening, pulse racing. So you follow a link, and another link, and then all of a sudden you’ve got seven tabs open from the Danish news site TV Midtvest, each of them more intriguing than the last. 

Such is the case of the shark on the bike path. 

I can’t add original reporting here, being in lower-east Australia rather than middle-west Denmark, but what I can do is present to you the distilled facts of this objectively funny small-town story. But where to begin? The porpoise in the forest? The shark on the bike path? The TV host promising a bounty of a three-course meal with sparkling water

I suppose we should probably start with the shark, a story that broke last Thursday. TV Midtvest doesn’t beat around the bush. Headline: Shark found on cycle path. Feature image: a shark on a cycle path. Does what it says on the tin.

Screenshot of news post showing a dead shark lying in a bike path.

This, you will note, is not a shark’s natural habitat – and nor is this particular bike path so close to the sea to suggest a big wave swept it hence. As such, you will correctly surmise that the shark is A) no longer alive, and B) was not alive at the point it found its way here. It is on the side of the path, next to a hedge, tail arcing gracefully. TV Midtvest’s intrepid reporter with the scoop tells her readers that the shark is one and a half metres long, and that the police are aware of it, and that now the municipal department is going to remove it.

Most of the report is in the dry and straightforward language of Serious News – “It is not known how the shark ended up on the cycle path” and “Central and West Jutland Police [says] that not much is known about the shark, other than that it was found on the cycle path”, things of this nature – but there is the tantalising hint that someone, somewhere recognises the absurdity of this situation the Danes now find themselves in. “TV Midtvest were the first to tell [a municipal department manager] about the shark, and at first he was very sceptical about whether it could be real, but after seeing the pictures, he is now convinced,” the report runs. This has the ring of truth to it. I was also sceptical about a shark on a bike path. I have seen the pictures. I am now convinced. 

The story could end there, but Serious Reporters follow Serious Stories to the bitter end. You see, in this sleepy pocket of Denmark, the shark on the bike path is not an isolated incident. In April 2023, a baby whale was found in a forest, 70 km from the sea.

Headline: High tide or flying fish? Henriette has found a porpoise in the forest. Feature image: Henriette, in the forest, with a dead porpoise. (Excuse Google’s translation: ‘porpoise’ and ‘guinea pig’ are both ‘marsvin’ in Danish, which makes this story even more confusing than it already is.)  

Screenshot of news post showing a Danish woman, Henriette, gesturing toward a dead baby whale in the middle of a pine plantation.

“You can find many interesting animals and plants in a forest,” begins the report. “But Henriette Kristensen from Fasterholt between Ikast and Brande had not expected that she would find a guinea pig on Tuesday morning.

“And this is not about the little furry pet. No, we are talking about an approximately one and a half metre long blue-black toothed whale that usually swims around in the sea,” TV Midtvest helpfully explains, before going on to outline the key beats of this story.

They are thus: Henriette found a porpoise in the forest. She was surprised to find this porpoise, and “thought that … probably someone … had bought it for fun and then regretted it.” She posted pictures of it on Facebook, and a friend told her that, actually, there was a porpoise with the same injuries found in Binderup (an 80 km drive south) but “whether it is the same porpoise is, however, unknown.” Kinda sounds like it might be! Also, very bloody convenient intel, Henriette!

Let’s leave the forest-porpoise there for now, and circle back to the shark. In what I can only imagine was a giddy Thursday at TV Midtvest HQ, reporters scattered in search of clues. One such reporter went to the local aquarium for insight on the shark, and discovered a disturbing reality: this was a protected species, “and therefore it is also illegal [as opposed to merely very weird – ed.] for someone to have taken the large sea creature ashore and transported the shark to the cycle path in the small town.” 

Screenshot of a news post, showing the shark on the bike path in close up.

Michael Madsen, the owner of the aquarium, unpicked the quirky specifics of Scandinavian fishery law: “Depending on where it is caught, it may well be legal to have it on a boat – there is a difference between the rules in Denmark and Norway, for example. But you must not take it ashore,” he sternly toldTV Midtvest, the reporter undoubtedly nodding enthusiastically along because this is all amazing stuff.

It is a grey shark, Madsen confirmed, and his hypothesis is that someone caught it in a net, was unable to sell it at the fish market, took it home to show the kids, “but then you’re left with it afterwards and don’t know what to do … They don’t smell very good, and the unpleasant smell comes quite quickly. So there is probably a wife [or husband or de facto partner, this is 2024, FFS –ed.] who thought it stank too much,” Madsen suggested. 

So far, so good. We have a shark, we have experts chiming in, and we have a possible connection to another aquatic mystery. How to heighten the intrigue with a third story in the space of eight hours? Raise the stakes, of course!

Screenshot of news post, showing a bearded Anders Lund Madsen wearing a red beanie, looking enigmatically into middle distance, where a photoshopped image of the dead bike path shark hovers in mid air.

The protagonist in this latest twist is the journalist and media personality Anders Lund Madsen, and he thinks that there is something fishy going on. “Even back then with the porpoise I thought it was bizarre. Investigations showed that it had died naturally, but no one came forward to [say they had] thrown it into the forest. And now this – now I can’t have it at all,” Madsen told TV Midtvest, before elaborating on his “fears … that the shark is not the last sea animal to be found outside its natural habitat somewhere in the region.”

From here, Madsen spirals into wild speculation: “I think there must be a third, and what will it be then? A lumpfish in Herning? There are many questions that we can only get answered by a perpetrator.” To get to the bottom of this mystery, he proposes a bounty: a three-course meal at a nice restaurant (but with sparkling water, not wine, because we’re not made of money). Do the police have leads at this point? They do not: “It is difficult to investigate. But if someone calls and says how it ended up there, then we have something for a case,” a local police representative offers.

Now, let’s fast forward to today – when after half a week of dogged police work and even more dogged reporting from the fine folks at TV Midtvest, there is BREAKING NEWS. The case is cracked: “a man from the local area has admitted that he has thrown the shark onto the cycle path. The police found the man after a tip.”

Screenshot of news post showing the dead bike path shark and the headline that "the mystery is solved".

“The man had come into possession of the dead shark on the harbour in connection with probably some by-catch or fish waste,” a police statement noted. From there, “he took it with him and put it on the bike path for fun … Dead sharks are not common on West Jutland cycle paths,” observed a police spokesperson soberly (although statistically speaking, I’d counter that they are much more common now than they were a week ago). The man will receive an unspecified fine.

Does that tie it all up with a bow? Not really: Anders Lund Madsen is as yet unsatisfied. “I still think there is a bigger story behind it,” he told TV Midtvest. “The connection with the case of the porpoise has not been established, as I understand it,” he mused. “We are of course further along in the investigation now than we were yesterday, but right now I have more questions than I have answers.”

To be honest, I agree with him. Some of the questions springing to mind: is this how known fish-slinger Jonas Vingegaard passes his time recovering from injury? When will the lumpfish terrorise Herning? Who gets the succulent Danish meal (with mineral water)? And, perhaps most to the point, what the hell is going on in Denmark?

Update 9 May:

I hate to have to do this, but in the brief time since this article was written there have been TWO IMPORTANT UPDATES. 

-The 42 year old shark slinger has been fined 3,000 Danish kroner for littering. (section 28 of the Nature Protection Act, for those playing along at home)

-There is an entire new article (headline – Fine or Not: Shark Man is Celebrated) about a 65 year old pensioner who isn’t happy that the perpetrator is being fined. “I simply think it is brilliant that a man comes up with something like this. It has given both laughs and talk. I think that kind of thing is funny,” she told our friends at TV Midtvest. She has proposed that people who also find the shark funny help pay the man’s fine.

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