When a dream becomes reality. More epic sharks, in my case.
I am about to do something that I have waited a long time to do. Actually, scratch that. Waiting isn’t the proper word. Waiting implies that I actually expected it to happen at some point. Dreaming is much more accurate. Call me crazy. (Trust me, most people, including my mother, have already done so. Several times.) But I have dreamt of swimming with sharks for years. A few months ago I began to do just that on a regular basis, but it still wasn’t good enough. I could never get close enough, or see them long enough. They always seemed just out of reach. I want to be face to face, close enough to touch. Just watching them move amazes me. To be so close to that raw power accompanied by its usual mellow attitude was a gift that I just couldn’t get enough of. And now i’m going to be surrounded by them. I do mean that literally. Yes, I did volunteer for this. Actually, I quite literally begged. Ask my trip director, Angus.
As I descend I start counting sharks.1,2,3…15…23… wait did I already count that one…34… I give up and just guesstimate 40 as I near the spot where we will lower the cage full of tuna heads. The cage I will be cutting open. The cage all these sharks are anticipating. All of the customers have already been placed in a circle around the main event. I hear Terry in the tender drop the cage in the water and Angus pulls the rope through a pulley that allows the cage to be lowered to the reef and ties it off. The sharks are going crazy. They all swim frantically around the cage, bumping and biting it in attempts to open it themselves. A lone potato cod has come to check out the action as well. Angus swims around, snapping photos of the amazing creatures as we wait for them to calm down a bit. I keep glancing between him and the sharks, waiting for him to signal me to open the cage. My heart is racing. My entire body is tingling with adrenaline, anticipation, and excitement. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alive. I stare at all the sharks in awe. They’re beautiful.
“I never realised how big their mouths are. They’re all over me. It occurs to me that my white hand, cut off at the wrist by my black wetsuit, looks an awful lot like a fish right now.”
After what feels like forever, I get the signal from Angus after he hands me the hook knife to cut the cage open. I begin to swim very slowly towards the tornado of sharks swarming around the cage. As I get closer, they don’t seem to notice my presence. As a matter of fact, you would think I am invisible because they bump into me and swim against me. I try to get as close to the zip tie as I can but the sharks seem to understand whats about to happen and they get even more excited and start bumping and biting the cage. A few times, just when i’m about to reach out and cut the tie, a large mouth appears right next to it. I never realised how big their mouths are. They’re all over me. It occurs to me that my white hand, cut off at the wrist by my black wetsuit, looks an awful lot like a fish right now. I feel like i’ve been at this for half an hour, I finally just elbow my way through the sharks as they bump me in the head and arms and pretty much everywhere that isn’t blocked by my tank and bcd. I shoot my arm out, cut the zip tie, and swim away. Holy freaking shit. That was incredible! After a tug on the rope, the buoy under the gate is released with all the tuna heads attached, and the feeding frenzy begins. I am still incredibly close to them. I watch the show, mesmerised. The sharks wrestle over the bait. Some luck out, some don’t. It’s all over in about 5 minutes. I spend the rest of the dive slowly drifting around the dive site, revelling in my fortune, swimming with my powerful friends who have chosen to linger around.
Back on the boat, a customer showed me a great video of the entire encounter. I discovered that, in reality, it took me about less than 2 minutes to open the cage. This blew my mind, it felt like forever. At this point, I realise that this is currently the coolest thing i’ve ever done in my life. How will I top this? I decide to live in the moment and enjoy it. I can worry about topping this later. Besides, I have complete faith in myself. Just look what I’ve done so far!
After arriving at lizard Island the next day, another blessing is bestowed upon me. I’ve just finished cleaning the bathrooms when Matty runs past me with the most excited look on his face. “The back deck, go to the back deck,” he says a few times. I put down my cleaning products and trot out the back door to the dive deck. Past the barrier in front of the steps I see Mish on the platform, stomping her foot and cooing at the water. She looks a bit silly to me. A minute later a large gasp escapes my mouth as I see a massive tawny nurse shark swim up to the boat. One of the perks of being part of the crew, I move past the “do not cross” barrier to stare at this beautiful creature. It disappears, then swims back up to the boat. Mish gets down on her knees and splashes the surface of the water just next to the boat. To my astonishment, the tawny swims right up to her hand and lets her pet it! I can’t believe this is happening. I quickly get down on my knees and do the same. It’s so beautiful. I’ve never seen a shark so cute in my entire life! It swims right up to me, sticks it’s nose somewhat out of the water, and urges me to pet it. It really seems to enjoy it! I get a little curious and begin rubbing it’s nose, then almost to it’s mouth. It feels nothing like what I would have assumed. I coo with clear adoration and continue to rub it’s flat head, just between the eyes. The moment is so genuine, i’m completely filled to the brim with happiness, as if I were floating. I attempt to absorb how incredible I feel in this moment. This is the exact feeling i’ve been chasing, though I didn’t know until now. I imagine i’ll be chasing it for the rest of my life.
Until next time,
XOXO Claire Gilbert