Every once in awhile, someone that I know does something so incredible, inspiring and interesting (all of the i’s) that I am compelled to write about it. Such is my friend, Laura. Laura is an avid diver, having been on 350 dives since her certification in 1999. The underwater adventure that you are about to read about is for very experienced divers only – please note the number of dives that Laura has been on and the years of that she has been doing this. Most reputable operations require you to have a certain amount of experience anyway. In other words, don’t be a dummy – if you have never even put a pair of flippers on before, this isn’t for you. This post has been double checked by Laura for accuracy.
I’ve known Laura for a number of years, starting off as colleagues, then graduating into friends. Laura is one of the smartest, most positive people that you will come across. If you are lucky enough to know her, you already understand the extent of her kindness, good will and zest for life. She is also a very talented seamstress. Everyday, during the time that I worked with her, I’d have to ask if she made the outfit that she was wearing, that’s how good her frocks are! Seriously, she missed her calling – she could have been the Dolce to Gabbana, the Y to YSL, the Coco to Chanel, the Alice to Alice + Olivia – I think you get the picture. She gives her all to everything, including her passion for diving. Being an avid snorkeler, who one day would like to take the plunge (pun intended) and get my SCUBA diving certificate, I always sit in silent rapture whenever Laura tells stories about one of her around this world diving trips. I’m also fascinated by, and feel protective towards sharks. Many species, including the giant hammerhead, are slowly going extinct thanks to people over-hunting them for their fins, for sport or to show what a manly man you are. When people are attacked by a shark, while it’s very sad, it’s a risk that you accept if you want to swim in the ocean. We are unwelcome visitors in their home. If you had someone in your home who was unwelcome and that you perceived as a threat, if you attacked them, you can claim self-defense. A shark doesn’t have that luxury and are often hunted when someone is attacked. These aren’t malevolent creatures actively hunting humans, they are important predators in the food chain.
Back to Laura’s fascinating journey. This particular trip was in the Bahamas, but was a little more of a once (or twice) in a lifetime experience. I asked Laura all about it, but was so enraptured that I didn’t take notes. My first question was the rather juvenile – so could you see the sharks when you were diving into the water???? Her response was an of course. And she still went in! She also mentioned that during one ascent, a diver had a curious tiger shark nibbling on his flipper. The likely, calm, but slightly fearful diver pointed this out to the dive master who shrugged his shoulders, not because he didn’t care, but because there is little that he could do, the shark wasn’t hunting humans and he had likely been through it himself a number of times. Laura was patient and answered all of my questions starting with:
How did you get into diving? I met my husband in March 1999. He told me the most amazing stories about his diving experiences, all over the world. He offered to take me to Palau in February 2000, on the condition that I get certified here, first. So, I was certified in September 1999. I still remember my “check-out dive” – where you basically show the instructor that you understand how to put your gear together, can stay underwater without panicking, and remove your mask underwater, and put it back on while underwater (I had the hardest time with this, but in the end, it all went well). This was in Parry Sound in late September – it was FREEZING. I thought if this was diving – I’m not so sure…. Not to mention, the wet suit technology was not like today. I was wearing a 7mm farmer john (2 pieces – thick neoprene painter pants and a second equally thick top with hood – honestly, out of the water, you could barely move – I was convinced this is what an Italian sausage felt like). Wet suits today are SO much more comfortable – thank goodness.
What can you tell me about this particular dive? Can you share the location and tell us a bit about the trip and what you saw? Here is a map http://www.aggressor.com/bahamasTB-divesites.php – you can see the dive sites (diver flag – red with a diagonal white stripe). The trip is called Tiger Beach – but honestly, we were told there aren’t always a lot of tigers around tiger beach… We were very lucky to have landed in an area where there were MANY tiger sharks, and lemon sharks, so we stayed there for a bit. Although the dive site info refers to tiger sharks that were 7 feet long – the ones we encountered were well over 10 ft…we think they were around 15 ft long. Of particular note, there was a pregnant female – which was so interesting, because there was a distinct thickness around her middle. We (the divers) simply stayed on the sandy bottom of the dive site, not moving around much, and sharks came closer and closer and started to swim all around us. Even the most seasoned divers were is awe. They really are beautiful animals.
Were you, or any of the other divers at all scared or was there a freak out moment? No – these were all seasoned divers who had been around sharks before. Everyone was very calm and just in awe and respectful of the sharks. Jill note: Interestingly, although tiger sharks are more feared, and are thought to be more aggressive, it was actually the lemon sharks that Laura was more wary of. She and her husband did a short swim away from the group and returned when they were pursued by two lemon sharks. Nothing happened, but remember, sharks are wild animals and their behavior cannot be predicted.
How many days did you dive and did you get used to being in the water with these particular sharks? 5 – after awhile, you were so used to seeing them, it almost became routine. Oh, another tiger shark!
Did they give you anything to protect yourself with? No – the bubbles coming from your tank are actually a small deterrent – the sharks don’t seem to like them. A pole, used incorrectly, could just anger the shark. Really, it comes down to staying calm, and that comes with experience as a diver and other encounters with sharks. If the shark is angry, and wants to attack, there isn’t a lot you can do, but again, it’s very rare and staying calm comes with experience.