An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Sharks: In Three Acts

You just mention the word “shark” and suddenly that’s all people talk about. Well, as commenter “J-money” once said, “Give the people what they want!” So sharks it is. There are a few stories, so I’ve split this entry into 3 Acts.

Act I.

We arrived the Bahamas at sunrise. Docked. Checked in. Got the passports stamped and set out immediately to do some spear fishing. I should explain just what I mean by “spear fishing”, because if you are like me you imagine Tom Hanks standing on a rock next to a blue lagoon effortlessly stabbing unsuspecting trophy winners. While that may happen in real life, our version is a little bit different.

First you have a spear. A 4-5 foot pole with a sharp tip on one end and an elastic loop on the other. Holding onto the elastic tubing you slide your hand up the pole as far as you can, grip and upon release the sharp tipped end shoots toward your respective dinner. Furthermore, you are not standing on a rock waiting for fish. Nay, to catch a fish you must become a fish. Swim among them, dive with them, see eye to eye with them.

Day one. Dan says to the crew, “We must live like the people. We don’t catch—we don’t eat.” Yes… live like the people. We nod agreeably, snorkel up and get in. Bear in mind there are a LOT of fish in the ocean. Some you eat, some you don’t eat. Some you spear, some you don’t spear. I studied a sheet of “gamefishes of the Atlantic” before getting in, but you learn quickly that unless it’s Nemo or a jellyfish, they all kind of look the same when you’re in the water.

So there I was. Take a breath, dive down about 10-15 feet, look around and come back up for air. I see the ledge of a sand bar where the sea grass drops off to a deeper ocean floor. Perfect for prey. Gasp and dive. Bit by bit I inch closer to the suspecting ledge. Noticing an overhang, I swim towards it. Locked and loaded, I see an opening, walled with a gray flesh. My heart speeds. “Oh man, this is a massive fish! Live as the people live!!!” As I approach, heart beating, I am thinking through that list of nondescript fishes… I stretch my spear-hand forward toward the victim. I pause, hesitate, run out of air. Better pass on this one.

Good call. Dan later asks if we saw the shark. That evening we are reading a popular sailors book advising there are only a couple places a man can effectively spear a shark, otherwise it will be provoked and then… THEN you are in trouble.  LIVE as the people live, not die as the people die!

Act II.

Dive number two. Due to the poor return of our last dive, we dinghy to different location further from shore. Deeper means bigger, so we find a coral lift in a deeper section off shore. Snorkels on, masks down, in we go. Unfortunately, this location had less fish than the last. One curious barracuda trailed a steady 20 feet behind us as we bobbed a long the reef line. But he was more inquisitive than imposing, so we kept moving. We swam along never seeing anything worth preparing a spear for. Well after a short time of seeing only little guys, I bore and turn my eyes toward the sub horizon. It takes 2 seconds for my eyes to adjust and 1/2 second to spot a solid 8-12 foot shark (8-12 because underwater you can’t really tell…but it was longer than I was). “Hoh Crap!” bubble I through my snorkel. Surface and yell “shark, SHARK!” to the other two.

Rob, the friend joining us for a week, later admitted he initially doubted my claim, until seeing the great fish moments later. I know he saw it however, because even though he had 1/2 the fins Dan and I had, he was first to the dinghy. Dan casually swam still looking for fish, and later told Rob and I, the shark was a “nursing” shark, which he claims has a very distinct look.

I can tell you one thing, Rob and I both agreed: shark = shark. And teeth or no teeth I’ll have no shark “nursing” on my leg.

Act III.

I’ll go ahead and calm your precious pittering hearts by telling you in advance this next act contains NO close shark encounters (at least that I know of). After a couple more successful dives and no seen shark, Rob had to catch his plane back home. We sailed back to the Bimini dock and anchored just off a canal. This time we swam with a different objective: lobster. Most of the water was 3-5 feet deep, the canal was about 20.

One sweet thing about the Bahamas is that the lobsters have no pinchers. The plan was to float along the canal wall looking for the antennae poking out. When you spot a lobster, you swim up current to the antennae, then quickly reach in and grab the shellfish before it has a chance to hunker down.  We spent 45 minutes drifting down the wall and eventually we (Rob and Dan) catch a couple lobsters. I use the term lightly because our “catch” looked more like the offspring of a lobster who fell in love with a crawfish, spawning what we would call dinner.  Another term I use lightly.

The next morning we drop Rob off and as Dan and I walked the streets looking for a new snorkel to replace the one I somehow lost after our first dive, we bump into a young guy who works for the “shark lab”. Turns out the very area we were bobbin for lobbies the day before is a breeding area for Lemon Shark, who stick around for 6-9 years before moving on. We also learned from our local expert there were some bull shark (most aggressive) in the area, though not usually there and that the place to be most cautious are around the reefs while spear fishing… Nice. Nursing shark my butt! I have a feeling that sea monster we spotted days before would have loved a long tender piece of white meat. To which I fit the description beautifully. Long. Tender. And very white.

1 comment

1 Carolyn Ballard { 12.25.07 at 8:48 am }

Your shark story cracks me up! Our family & friends have spend 20+ years diving in the Abacos of the Bahamas. You’d think I would have become used to seeing shark and become a bit braver…but NO!! Every single time, I leave everyone and paddle frantically to boat screaming like a sissy-girl, “SSSSHHHHHHARRRRKKKK!!!” MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Never will learn to stop acting like a wounded fish.

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