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Quote of the Day - Nothing is impossible. If a man can go to the moon, I can certainly go scuba diving. - Matthew Johnston
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MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Underwater In Australia's Great Barrier Reef – Day Four

Perhaps more as a byproduct of the movie Jaws and the frequent summertime, sensationalist news stories featuring surfboards with the shape of a shark bite missing, non-divers frequently ask whether I'm afraid when I dive.  The almost universal answer from all divers is, "No," and for me especially so since I used to volunteer to get into an aquarium tank with sharks at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.

The aquarists always fed the sharks before we got in to feed the remaining fish and then unceremoniously clean the tank, so they were not hungry by the time we got in.  Not so when you're in the open water of the ocean, however.  It's au natural.

Even so, after logging almost 1,000 dives, I have yet to be overly worried about sharks, despite bumping into one while diving.  Frankly, The Bump appeared to frighten both of us equally.  The shark went as fast one direction as I perceived I did in the other, but I guess I'll never know since I didn't stick around to ask.

The North Horn of Osprey Reef, where the big ocean swirls around to the inner reef, proved quite an interesting shark dive, unlike any I've ever been on.  Sometimes, sharks are "known to be prevalent" in an area, but nothing like the area around the Horn.  Prevalent would be an understatement.  Convention would be more like it - estimates ranged to two dozen sharks in what can only be described as an intimately small underwater amphitheater.

Picture an equal number of divers staggered in a semi-circle about thirty-five feet deep, with our backs to a graduated, but steep wall, and a pinnacle outcropping about 15 feet away in the center of the semi-circle.

Grey sharks, white-, silver- and black-tipped reef sharks abounded in expectation of the shark feed about to begin.  Like Pavlov's dog, the arrival of a dive boat dropping divers into the water followed by the whine of the outboard motor of the boat's tender together signaled to the sharks that frozen tuna was on its way. 

Eager with anticipation, the divers sat and leaned against the wall, bubbles excitedly streaming from their regulators, hands held in tight for fear of being part of the feed since we were not in cages or otherwise protected.  The metal garbage can full of the tuna dropped from the surface tender, the top popped off the can and a single line of seven or eight very large bait fish rose upward, each tied by brown hemp rope to a thick grey and clanking metal chain. 

Immediately, the sharks' pectoral fins went from the flat, cruising-around mode to the downward angled plane-of-attack mode.  Backs arched and the sharks turned for the bait. 

Frenzied, twisting bodies darted in from all directions and the feed had begun.  As the sharks opened their jaws to swallow basket-ball size chunks of meat, their sharp teeth immediately sliced through scales and bone like a hot knife through butter.  It was an incredibly humbling experience to watch the ocean's highest predator show exactly why it earned that moniker, and convincingly demonstrate why I needed to keep my hands close to my body. 

Almost as fast as it started, it was over.  The sharks had completely consumed the bait, and smaller fish rushed in to pick up the table scraps.  Our divemaster signaled the end of the shark feed, and we were free to swim among the remaining sharks, which were not the least bit interested in us since we were obviously neither sick nor dying, the two staples of a shark's diet.

It was unnerving even so to imagine which of the remaining sharks we swam among had not gotten any of the bait.  I just couldn't get the musical theme to Jaws out of my head.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, March 30, 2007 at 19:56 Comments Closed (0) |
 
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