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November 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Sharks are Not Pussycats as Shark Divers Discover

from the November, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Moving ponderously, tiger sharks tend to stalk their prey from behind. They are tricky like that. They are the garbage collectors of the sea. They have catholic tastes and will attempt to eat anything. So when you go on a shark feed dive with tiger sharks, keep in mind: one might just be creeping up behind you.

Add to that the well-documented strange predilection some of them have for aluminum camera housings and scuba tanks (is it the electrolysis between the aluminum of the tank and the different metal of the regulator first-stage?), and you can understand that some scuba divers may be in for a frightening experience. I myself have been carried off more than once by an animal as big as a small car that grabbed my tank.

In my book Amazing Diving Stories, I wrote of gentleman's butler James Beezly, who, while taking time out to work as a dive guide with BAD, had an unfortunate experience with Scarface, Beqa's biggest tiger of them all, and was so frightened he returned forthwith to his former career.

What do you do when a big 16-foot-long striped fish with teeth gets hold of you? Well, there's not much you can do.

A Disconcerting Experience in Fiji

Undercurrent subscriber Alexander Armintor (Theodore, AL) tells of a disconcerting experience he had during a shark dive with Aqua-Trek in Fiji's Beqa Lagoon. These shark dives, organized by both Aqua-Trek and Beqa Adventure Divers (BAD), may attract up to eight different shark species and can be a terrific experience -- provided nothing goes wrong.

Armintor told us how 30-40 bull sharks, along with smaller sharks, turned up for a feed he attended. "It's quite a show," he said. A shark enthusiast who had previously been on shark dives out of Jupiter, FL, he was at first impressed rather than disturbed by the number of animals. That is, until the tiger shark turned up, scared off the bull sharks, and appeared to attempt to bite several of the other divers.

He says, "I'll admit to being a little nervous around tigers, but I get really nervous when I can't see them, especially when I became acutely aware the boulder next to me didn't allow me to see a shark coming from that way until it was almost on top of me.

"I was so busy looking behind and around I couldn't watch the show, which turned out to be good thinking, because sure enough, it came from behind as I happened to be looking that way. As slow as tiger sharks look, they actually come up on you pretty fast when you don't see them until they're within 10 feet. I just had time to yank the guide's arm to turn around, and between the two of us we pushed it off, or up really. I got a closer-than-close look at what a two-foot-wide tiger shark head and mouth look like.

"Looking down the line [of divers], I realized everyone was focused on the action in front, and I don't think more than one or two had any idea what happened. By now, I was really focused behind us, and sure enough, here it came again, but from a different direction. The guide and I were able to get everyone's attention in time to turn around to face it, and the guides pushed it away.

"Bottom line is, if you go on one of these tiger feeds, you'd better watch out and be prepared to defend yourself. These are not reef sharks. If I hadn't already been around tigers, I don't think I would have had the presence of mind to watch behind me, or known how to push them away."

Never Drop Your Guard

As Mike Neumann, the Swiss owner of BAD in Fiji, says, "Shark huggers, those people who say that sharks are harmless and need our affection, are misguided. Sharks generally have a mouth full of sharp teeth, and if you want to get close to them, you should be aware of that."

A last word from veteran underwater wildlife cameraman Marty Snyderman: "My advice is to always take big and potentially dangerous marine animals seriously. Never be cavalier. Never drop your guard. If you are uncomfortable with a situation, get out of it. All the 'they are just big puppy dogs' macho talk scares me."

Have a look at the stalking tiger shark mouthing Armintor's regulator:

-- John Bantin (author of Shark Bytes)

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