The Whites Of Their Eyes
So Thursday, Kenny, my cousin Ian and I went on a shark dive. We had booked a tour with “Shark Encounters”
- a small company in Oahu that takes people out 3 miles into the ocean puts them into a shark cage. They have a small but nice boat- and the captain and his crew guy were both young and tattooed, and played Johnny Cash over the boat speakers. Both were incredibly calm, the crew guy very quiet, the captain mellow, but had a nice aura of assuredness. You could tell they loved this job. As we were driving out the captain quickly turned around and pointed to the side “Look guys! Whales!” as an enormous humpback whale flipped his tail out of the water. We were going to an area of water where crab pots were set out, which sharks like apparently. They also know that free handouts await when they hear the boat pull up.
When we got there, there were immediate cries of “Ohmigod!” and “There they are!” but I didn’t see anything. I was the first to climb into the cage that was pulled tight to the rolling boat’s side. I put on my mask and snorkel and hopped in. In that first initial underwater plunge I was shocked by the cold (it was actually 78 degrees but water is always cold when you first get in) and then by the fact that underwater I could see at least 20 sharks already circling the cage. I’ve never seen a shark in the wild much less be in the water with a bunch of them. I quickly popped back up to the surface. Fins were breaking the surface of the water all around me. It was very surreal in that you see that sight all the time in the movies, to the point where a shark fin breaking the water is almost a cartoony cliché’. But to actually see that it was a real animal, and to see it at surface level (and inches away) is pretty startling. By then Kenny and Ian had jumped in and we all jostled each other in the small cage what with clamouring for a view, being sloshed about inside the cage by the considerable waves, and me trying to keep my feet and hands from popping through the bars. I felt pretty safe in the cage but you could easily get pushed up against the sides where there was always a shark drifting by.
Me: "Jesus Christ!"
Underwater, the water was a luminous cobalt blue, fathomless and shot with sunbeams. About 20 grey brown Galapogos sharks circled around leisurely, eating chum and checking out the cage. They were all sizes, some were about 3 feet long- and some reached about 10 feet. The older larger ones had some impressive battle scars. You couldn’t see teeth, these sharks were very streamlined and sleek, with smooth spade-like heads. The younger ones swam around in a distractedly curious way, as if they were thinking “Oh look, it’s the monkeys in the cage again, of well- just keep giving me more of this delicious chum”, eating leisurely and not really scrapping with each other, quickly opening their mouths to ingest the small floating bits as white membranes covered their eyes every time they took a bite. The larger ones, however, circled in close and really looked at you.
Ian gets "chummy" with our new friends. Har har!
There is something wondrous and unnerving when you find yourself being sized up by an animal that knows it could take you, but isn’t that interested at the moment. The large guys would drift by, an inch away from the cage, at your eye level, and their grey eyes with black cat-like pupils would roll sideways to keep you in it’s view as it glided by. Looking down, you could see your bare feet, the thin metal bars of the cage, and then layers of sharks swimming underneath, or coming up at an angle towards you from the darker depths. The water was so blue and clear, and the sharks so mellow, that I had to actually remind myself that it wasn’t an aquarium! It was wild sharks in the ocean. About 15 minutes in I had swallowed a lot of salt water as my snorkel was a bit messed up- and I was starting to feel really sick from the waves, the cage spinning around from the waves, being bumped by Kenny and Ian, and the hypnotic swirl of the sharks so I asked to get out.
Once on board, I started to get really seasick from the boat’s heavy rolling, so I concentrated on watching Kenny and Ian and trying to not gack over the side (would the sharks have eaten it if I had? Circle of life kind of thing? Eewww.). The crew guy, barefoot, standing on the back of the boat that was level with the water, waves sloshing over his toes, pulled a big piece of ahi skin out of the chum bucket and held it partially in the water. A shark rushed up to bite it, eyes rolling backward as a thick white membrane closed over them, and came about a foot out of the water chomping furiously as the crew guy pulled up on the skin. We could see it’s small, perfect sharp teeth then, and all the way down its gullet. The captain then got down and both guys basically hand fed the sharks, the captain even reaching down and petting a few (he wouldn’t let us of course). ( And sorry about the lack of pics- I was frantically trying to keep my breakfast down at this point.) My impression was that of a big kennel of dogs actually. The funniest part was when the sharks came out of the water frantically biting something, I guess air would be pushed through their gills and they made a “Harmph, harmph, harmph” sound that made me think of Ren and Stimpy. Anyway- soon it was time to leave. I found myself thinking about the sharks all day long, not totally believing the incredible experience we just had.
There were a lot of fricken sharks.
I hear there’s a guy in South Africa that will take you out to swim with Great Whites
….we are saving up!