I am From the Shark Chew Capitol of the World. Here is Why I Love Diving with Considered one of Nature’s Most Misunderstood Predators

“Will we see sharks?”

After I first began scuba diving, that was my default query, tentatively posed at every new dive website. Most instructors misunderstood why I used to be asking, responding with a cheerful, “If we’re fortunate!”

Having grown up in a household of surfers in Volusia County, Florida, a vacation spot as soon as awarded the doubtful distinction of “Shark Chew Capitol of the World,” I was petrified of shark assaults. My worry prevented me from wading greater than ankle deep into the shallows, satisfied that a terrific white—in an act of miraculous athleticism and unexplained malice—would by some means leap out of the ocean and swallow me entire, Quint-style. I imagined a thousand razor-toothed fish circling beneath the floor, merely ready for his or her likelihood to strike. Whereas I by no means knew anybody to really expertise human-shark battle, my dad and brother incessantly observed bulls and blacktips from their boards. That was sufficient nightmare gasoline (together with some not-so-subtle affect from films and tv) to maintain me firmly on land till my thirties.

Then I found diving. On a fateful journey to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, I noticed that my nerves relaxed if I might see what was (or wasn’t) prowling slightly below the waves. Entranced by kaleidoscopic tropical fish and wizened sea turtles, I fell in love with the simultaneous calm and pleasure of floating weightlessly by the water column. Most significantly: There wasn’t a shark in sight.

Progressively, my perspective—and luck—started to shift. Whereas touring in Fiji, I noticed my first shark, a sheepish, elegant whitetip on the Coral Coast. She was nothing like I had pictured. Aloof and catlike, she darted away nearly instantly after noticing the unusual, bubble-breathing people. Surprisingly, there was no panic or nervousness lurking in my intestine. As an alternative, I felt an odd, pressing want to see extra—to push my curiosity to its restrict.

A number of days later, I had my likelihood on a low visibility dive with a resident faculty of scalloped hammerheads at Civea Pearl Farm close to Taveuni. For somebody with a work-in-progress shark phobia, this was the final word immersion—a trial not by fireplace, however by shark-filled waters. It turned out to be precisely what I wanted. As a cloud of hammerheads handed by, gently swaying their alien heads from side-to-side, hardly taking discover of my intrusion into their murky house, I started to grasp sharks for what they are surely: Clever, balletic animals that choose to go about their day swimming, consuming, mating, and positively not plotting some type of fantastical conspiracy towards mankind. Scuba diving gave me the chance to expertise the world from their perspective.

At present, I’ve began searching for out dive websites the place I’m prone to meet these misunderstood predators, from leopard sharks in Western Australia to tiger sharks within the Bahamas. As a lot happiness as these journeys deliver me, I hope they do good, too. Ecotourism may be an efficient conservation technique by creating monetary motivation for vital adjustments in fisheries coverage and administration, in addition to serving to shift the general public notion of sharks; one thing that has turn into more and more pressing as as much as 100 million sharks are killed yearly, threatening over one third of species with extinction. (In contrast, there have been 73 confirmed unprovoked shark bites worldwide in 2021).

However don’t bounce into the water simply but. It’s important to do your analysis earlier than reserving a shark dive, each in your and the animals’ well-being. “There are financial and conservation advantages to shark tourism,” says Melissa Cristina Márquez, a marine biologist and founding father of The Fins United Initiative. “The tourism trade can, nevertheless, hurt sharks and their habitats if not managed correctly. Shark diving operations that use extra bait or chum to draw sharks needs to be averted. The observe can change sharks’ pure habits and could also be harmful for people.” For extra steering, WWF, Mission AWARE, and The Manta Belief have joined collectively to deliver the world’s first Accountable Shark & Ray Tourism: A Information to Finest Follow.

This previous October, I went diving in French Polynesia, one among an rising variety of international locations which have taken the initiative to outlaw killing sharks and the biggest shark sanctuary on this planet. As with many Polynesian cultures, sharks there symbolize an vital aumakua, a private god or deified ancestor who acts as a spirit information. As such, the looks of a shark is commonly believed to be omen, and it’s thought-about extraordinarily dangerous luck to hurt one.

For a shark-loving convert, it was the final word dive journey, reckoning with my newfound perspective with sightings each time I set foot within the water. At Tiputa Move on Rangiroa, I glided above a shifting carpet of 100 numerous reef sharks. In Tahiti, I rested on the seafloor close to a cleansing station, rewarded for my effort when a pair of whitetips settled in for a nap mere toes from my masks. My favourite encounter got here in Moorea. Whereas most lemon sharks have been off mating, the biggest one I’ve ever seen—a 9-foot, cumbersome feminine with recent, post-coital scars—investigated our diving occasion for almost quarter-hour.

In case you’ve ever skilled a shark swimming instantly towards you, you understand how hypnotic it may be; a wondrous mixture of energy and style that may solely come from a creature that’s one-part ballerina and two-part submarine. To me, it is going to by no means cease feeling like a small miracle that these masters of evolution tolerate our presence and typically (on the threat of sounding anthropomorphic) appear to take pleasure in it. That day in Moorea, I made eye contact with the lemon shark. There’s no worry left—solely peace. I perceive the factor that I used to worry essentially the most.

Earlier than each dive, I nonetheless ask if we’ll see sharks. However I hope for a special reply.

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