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Playing "tag" with sharks

Playing “tag” with sharks

A few years ago, I spent almost two weeks in Belize with my friend, Katie. Frankly, it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had, especially the daily SCUBA diving in the azure crystal clear waters of Ambergris Caye.  Each morning, we would go beyond the barrier reef that outlines the island and do two dives.  One morning mid-way through our vacation, during our first dive we saw all sorts of aquatic life, including some very large green eels, as well as a few sea turtles.

How's it going?

How’s it going?

Curious green eel

Curious Green Eel

Sea Turtle

Sea Turtle

Silhouette of Sea Turtle

Sea turtle almost a silhouette underneath the sun

What a glorious day.  I really enjoyed that first dive.  We rested for about an hour, before preparing for our next dive.  As was typical, the Master Diver went over the safety brief while we drank refreshments and ate some fruit.  More times than not, this brief is routine, but nevertheless, you always listen in case the master diver emphasizes something unusual.  OH OH! This dive was going to be a bit unusual. Specifically, he indicated that he would be bringing down a bag of “chum” to attract sharks . . . WTF?  Gulp.  He did note they were Nurse sharks, adding that they were harmless, but my brain didn’t process this part immediately.  In short, this didn’t allay my fears of being eaten.  Ha.  The way my brain works, I’m thinking, “Hmm . . . OK, the Nurse sharks show up for the chum, but what if some other types of sharks show up?  Like Tiger or Bull sharks, both predators? Or worse, a Great White shark makes an appearance.”  Consequently, I only heard the word – SHARK and it was spelled in big capital letters. So, I was a bit disconcerted, although I tried outwardly not to betray any fear to my fellow divers, especially to my friend, Katie – who is a very self sufficient, confident woman.

Large sharks with big teeth I kept on thinking.  Double gulp. I was wondering if anyone else was thinking what I was thinking.

So, we checked our regulators, then donned our masks, fins, and tanks, preparing for something that I certainly hadn’t experienced before.  I looked over at Katie and she was all excited and “Gung Ho” about doing this. Hmm.  I tried to muster the enthusiasm she displayed, but admittedly, I probably wasn’t too convincing.  Regardless, I put on my best “shit eating grin” and tried to relax.

Over the side of the boat we went, approximately 6-7 divers, our master diver leading the way.  We wouldn’t be going very deep, only 35-45 feet deep, this being our second dive of the day.  We followed the master diver, descending slowly to the bottom, ensuring our ears were equalized. So far so good.  We gathered near the sand and coral reef.  A quick check by the master diver confirmed all divers were accounted for.  We had been underwater for approximately 4-5 minutes and I’m thinking, “So, where are the sharks?  Have they already eaten lunch?  No problemo . . . ”

Then they appeared. A lot of them. At least a dozen. Oh my god! One swam right under my legs.  Wow!

Where's lunch?

Where’s lunch?

Then the master diver tried to get my attention. He did the universal signal for watch or look at this . . . He then grabbed one of the sharks, flipping it on its back and started cradling it.  Then he rubbed its stomach.  The shark was actually docile.  Unfrickingbelievable!

You want me to do what?

You want me to do what?

Then he signaled me to do it.  Who me?  Umm . . . Sorry, not this kid.  He insisted.  Shit.  Everyone was watching me.  Dammit.  How do I get myself in these messes? So, I did what he instructed and after grabbing one, I flipped it on its back and the shark didn’t fight me.  Hey, this is actually kind of cool. The master diver signaled me to rub its stomach, so I did.  Sheesh, I almost felt like singing:

Rock-a-Bye Baby

Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all

Rock A Bye Baby

Rock A Bye Baby

I think he's falling asleep

I think he’s falling asleep

Well, all my anxiety was for naught.  We stayed down for approximately 40-45 minutes and it turned out to be one of the best SCUBA dives I have ever experienced.  I will never forget that dive and will treasure it forever.  I hope the shark I cradled felt the same way.  Grin.