My shark tale
My first encounter with sharks was when I was about 8 years old, fishing on a coastal dock in the midafternoon summer sun. I hadn’t caught anything and was feeling rather hot; thus, I considered giving up on fishing and jumping into the beckoning river. As I reeled in my line, a shark surfaced, circled my line several times and went back under. Needless to say, I did not take a cool, refreshing swim that day. Subsequently, sharks were forever floating somewhere in my imagination during my “water happy” days of growing up.
Some years later, Jaws hit the silver screen, and my teenage friends and I would often act out the famous opening scene, pretending to be pulled under water by some unseen shark. I had one friend, Anne, who refused to wade in past her calves after the trauma of Jaws kidnapped her love of swimming. She would yell from the shallow water for us to quit re-enacting that wretched scene; otherwise, she said, we might be fighting off a shark without her knowing it was real.
Once I started scuba diving, I would catch myself breathing more rapidly when the small 5-foot reef sharks would sashay by and those haunting two notes from the Jaws song would play through my mind. Once the shark was out of sight, I could relax again. The turning point for overcoming this gnawing fear was scuba diving with Henry on an organized shark feed. To say I was coerced is an understatement; however, I did say yes.
The dive was a shallow 30 feet with several shelves of coral around us. The dive master wired the bait on one coral shelf as we watched from another shelf about 15 feet away. I had no pride in piggybacking on Henry’s scuba tank, peering over his shoulder to observe the sharks as they started to swim in. I was amazed with how methodical they were as they circled, observed and pondered the bait before the mayhem broke loose. As the feeding frenzy started, a membrane of skin covered the shark’s eyes giving the appearance of their eyes rolling backward. Then they thrashed around, consuming every bit of bait wired to the top of the coral. I was spellbound, draining my tank of air. For some reason, seeing how carefully the sharks considered the bait before eating it gave me a great assurance that sharks are not as great a threat as I had imagined.
Such was my peace … until I studied the incredible photographs that Jamie Walker took of great whites on page 72. His shots showing the magnificent size and power of these underwater predators instilled a renewed awe of all sharks. Mercifully, great whites rarely venture into our warm Southern waters. Nonetheless, I’ll be found wading in up to my calves this summer, watching braver swimmers from the safety of shallow depths. Happy wading!