Sharks & Eels & Barracudas, Oh My!

For as many years as I can remember as a child, I loved curling up with family and a bowl of popcorn and watching the once-a-year televised airing of The Wizard of Oz. (Somehow, that felt far more special than our ability now to download or watch a DVD any ol’ time you please.) Anyway, one of the memorable lines in the movie was Dorothy’s innocent exclamation, “Lions and tigers and bears – oh my!” As I delve deeper (no pun intended) into my new world, I am far more apt to blurt, “Shark!” or “Eel!” or “Barracuda!” Oh my.

Living on an island means all kinds of encounters with all kinds of creatures, large and small, on land and sea. In the sea, especially when out diving near the edge of the deepest parts of the ocean, we often see a variety of creatures of the sea.

Sometimes it’s fun! From time to time we’re treated to visions of dolphins splashing around. I mean REAL dolphin, as in porpoise-like mammals, not the dolphin fish also known as mahi-mahi (which we fish for because they are delicious!).

Last month, for example, we were out one Saturday morning and saw a group of dolphin jumping and playing nearby. I counted at least seven jumping in arcs above the water, and I could see splashes and grey forms underwater of many more. These mammals are amazing, so graceful. I regret now that I didn’t jump in to swim with them. At the time, the guys were focused on diving, I didn’t have my snorkel gear handy and the water was cold, so I just stood and watched. Next time, I’ll jump in regardless!

Next best thing, swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, Florida (pictured here).

Sometimes, more dangerous creatures are spotted. During that same dive trip last month, for example, a big Moray eel, as big as our smallest diver, was lurking under a large rock formation. Experience taught this diver well. He knew not to swim into a dark hole. Rather, he approached low at a distance and peered into the hole first. Since the eel had already laid claim to that spot, the diver simply swam away.

We also see sharks fairly often. Sharks have a bad reputation and are actually protected now because their numbers are dwindling as people have killed them off. Around here, we have a healthy respect for sharks. Generally, the ones we run into most don’t usually mess with people, unless there is blood in the water. The divers also are familiar with different types of sharks. If a nurse shark comes around (like the ones in the Photo Tour at the fish bench), divers typically stay in the water. Or, if other species of shark come around (e.g., reef shark, tiger shark), divers often stay in the water if the shark is less than 6, 7, 8 feet. The divers watch the shark and gauge the danger level. Not me – any shark, no matter the size or species, prompts me back into the boat!

Also during that same eventful dive trip last month, we had a real shark encounter. As I dozed in the sun on the bow of the boat, three men swam in the water as the boat followed nearby. I heard someone say “shark” one time, and I immediately jumped up to see where the guys were. In that instant, two of the divers were already scrambling back onto the boat. The third was about 20 feet away and we shouted to him to come in, which he did safely.

As the divers tell it, one of them saw the shark swimming low and fast beneath them and saw that it was huge. He called out “shark” as he swam to the boat. The diver near him heard “shark” and turned to check it out. Again, sharks are not uncommon or reason to get in the boat always, so this diver was looking to see what kind of shark it was and whether any danger was posed. At this point the shark had turned, so the diver couldn’t see his hammerhead or his full length. But the diver saw his big belly and an astounding girth of four feet, enough to spur him toward the boat after his buddy. If the girth was that wide, what must have been the length?!

He later only-half-jokingly told his buddy that next time, the spotter needs to yell “BIG shark” so he doesn’t take the time to look for himself! The third diver, eyes wide in his snorkel mask, heard all the commotion and got himself back to the boat quickly, though he gave his buddies a hard time about ditching him! (They didn’t really, and our skilled driver had already thrown the boat into gear to get close to the divers and to possibly ward off the shark with the sound of an engine.)

The other reputedly fearsome ocean creature that I have personally encountered is Barracuda. Despite the mouthful of scary-looking teeth, I find these long silvery fish to be pretty. Perhaps that’s my girlie-girl love of shiny sparkly things. However, it is that same love of shiny sparkly things that I must guard against when going in the water. Barracuda, and other creatures, mistake glints of light off of jewelry for shiny and delicious fish. Since I really have no desire to be chomped on by a barracuda – or anything else – I leave earrings, anklets and all jewelry at home on days where I’ll be swimming in the water anywhere deeper than my backyard beach. I also forgo wearing my favorite colorful and sequined swimsuits in favor of more subdued colors with no sparkles. Seriously. The first time I joined the guys on a dive trip, I jumped overboard in my hot pink bathing suit to swim along with the spear-fishing action, and they referred to me as shark bait. Indeed, I had my first in-water encounter with a nurse shark that day! At a distance, but still.

Now that I’m blogging with you, I’ll try to take more pictures – even (or especially) in the midst of sharks, eels and barracudas – oh my! For now, your vivid imaginations can fill in the gaps. 🙂

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