Let’s Talk about Sharks
It is hard to think of an animal more galvanizing than the shark. Divers love them, non-divers usually fear them, the media makes them out as monsters, & conservationists champion them. Good or bad, one way or another, most people have a very strong opinion about Sharks. Over the next few weeks in this space I will share of my thoughts on sharks, adventures with sharks, & will hopefully inspire you take action to protect these amazing animals.
Sharks are incredibly important to the Marine ecosystem. Project AWARE says “A healthy and abundant ocean depends on predators like sharks keeping ecosystems balanced. And living sharks fuel local economies in some places, like Palau where sharks bring in an estimated $18 million per year through dive tourism. They may rule the ocean, but sharks are vulnerable. They grow slowly, produce few young, and, as such, are exceptionally susceptible to overexploitation.”
Here is the story of one of my favorite shark encounters at Cocos Island.
What Cocos is famous for is Hammerhead sharks. At this astonishing place they come & school in unbelievable numbers. No one knows why the Hammerheads school or what the purpose of it is. No one knows why they only do it in 2 or 3 locations over the globe, but they do & it happens at Cocos. The Hammerhead is a pretty rare shark, you could dive your whole life & never see one; unless you come to Cocos Island. Here it is practically guaranteed that you will come face to face with the Scalloped Hammerhead & get to see them schooling. These sharks are from 8 to 12 feet in length & are easily recognized by the peculiar “hammer” shape of their head which creates an unmistakable silhouette.
It was only our second dive at the island when I saw my first hammerhead & it is a moment I will never forget. Still adapting to the negative entries, I had swum hard for the area the dive master had described in the dive briefing. He had said to head straight down to about 70 feet where a big rock sticks out, then grab on, hunker down, & wait. Well, I didn’t have to wait long. As I set myself on the rock, I turned to see if the diver behind me was ok, then as I turned back there they were; two 11 foot hammerheads right below me.
I swear that right then, at that moment, I suddenly became the 10 year old version of myself, sitting on the family room floor with my “Creatures of Deep” book gawking at the pictures of the Hammerhead shark. I was reliving the awe & wonder I felt just looking at pictures of such a strange animal. Watching them swim by swinging those odd heads back & forth, the 10 year old in me practically yelled with delight that the hammerhead turned out to be twice as bizarre in person as it was in any picture book.
What followed over the next 7 days of dives was one encounter after another with these magnificent beasts. On dive after dive they appeared to us, sometimes only one or two, sometimes in larger groups. At the dive site Alcyone, we would get a few at time coming in close, while a large school moved by just on the edge of our visibility. Sometimes I felt like they were aware of our presence, sometimes I felt like they were just passing through, totally oblivious to us. Either way, I felt privileged to be a guest in their world. Then it happened…
At a site called Dos Amigos Pequena, we got “the show.” The rock formed kind of a sloping wide open L. Down at about 110 feet we had rock below us, but the curve of the rock of the site left us open on all other sides. This was where the hammerheads came in & surrounded us. They materialized as if from nowhere. It seemed like all at once everyone in the group was signaling shark & pointing in a different direction. They were below us, to our right, our left, behind us, & even above us. Then I looked into the blue & saw the shadowy silhouettes of hundreds of sharks going by. There is no frame of reference for a moment like that. Exhilaration & trepidation combine with amazement & humility in the face of nature to form a kind of joy that welled in my heart & struck me to the core of my soul. I gazed in awe at the astonishing power of nature & high-fived the 10 year old me.
Sharks are not only beautiful & amazing, but they are important to the ocean & to the planet. As my way of thanking them for giving me so many magnificent experiences & memories, I will include the Project AWARE Shark Awareness Specialty Instructor Course into all of my IDCs, at no cost to my students. This way the next generation of dive instructors can teach their own students about the beauty & wonder of sharks, & we can keep them around for many future generations to enjoy.
More adventures with sharks coming soon.
About the Author: Tim Bradley is the Course Director for Sea Explorers Dauin, is an avid underwater photographer, can instruct over 20 specialties, and is a certified Underwater Criminal Investigator.