FISH TALES FROM TWO DECADES OF DIVING SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
W hen I was still a young lawyer, a co-worker who happened to be a dive master made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She and her family were headed to a little island off the coast of the Mayan peninsula called Cozumel, home to the third-largest reef system in the world. She offered to teach me how to scuba dive and let me tag along. Still young enough to be immortal, off I went with a hundred bucks in my pocket (thank you, student loans!) and a garish neon-green bag of rented scuba gear. Fortunately, Cozumel was a lot cheaper then. “AS WE NEARED THE END OF THE DIVE, WE CAME AROUND A BIG CORAL FORMATION FROM ONE SIDE. OUT OF THE DARKNESS A MASSIVE, SHADOWY FIGURE MATERIALIZED FROM THE OTHER SIDE. EVERY BIT OF 20 FEET, I KNEW IMMEDIATELY IT WAS A BIG SHARK, BUT IT TOOK A MOMENT FOR THE TELLTALE HAMMERHEAD TO REGISTER.” I was excited, but had no clue that this lark would profoundly change my life, plunging me into a lifelong passion that I still love 20 years and hundreds of dives later. Now a certified rescue diver, I’m the one inviting others to the islands. My future wife went with me on her first dive almost 15 years ago in Costa Rica and has been hooked ever since. She even works for a dive resort now and is studying to be a dive master. My daughter dives as well, and, since she was trained in my wife’s home country of Australia, never misses a chance to one-up her old man, bragging that she was certified on the Great Barrier Reef. For most divers, that’s the
ultimate destination, not the starting point. She even saw a manta ray on her first dive; I still haven’t seen one.
I have had the pleasure of swimming with deadly snakes though. Like turtles, the golden sea snake breathes air and likes to sunbathe on the surface. After seeing the surreal site of a bright yellow viper floating on the surface during a dive trip several years back, imagine my trepidation later when one swam up beneath me on his way to get a tan. The dive guide assured us that, although “extremely deadly,” golden sea snakes were not aggressive. Only moderately secure in that knowledge, I learned on the very next dive that they are curious as well. As I swam around a large bommie looking at things up close and personal, one particularly menacing snake joined me for the entire dive, repeatedly swimming up right next to my face to see what I was looking at. He might have just been checking to see if I stirred up any food, but after four or five of those close encounters of the reptilian kind, I decided that a margarita on the boat would be a better use of my time. My favorite fish tale happened in Belize years earlier. My dive buddy and I were at the head of the group on a particularly overcast day. As we neared the end of the dive, we came around a big coral formation from one side. Out of the darkness a massive, shadowy figure materialized from the other side. Every bit of 20 feet, I knew immediately it was a big shark, but it took a moment for the telltale hammerhead to register. Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, sharks are rarely aggressive to humans. On average, one human is killed by sharks each year — worldwide! I always joke, though, that my dive buddy screamed, the shark screamed, and they both sped off in opposite directions. Even though our snooty French dive guide tried to play it cool back on the boat, I overheard him tell the captain later, “That was the biggest [expletive deleted] shark I’ve ever seen in my life!” I always remember fondly my friend who introduced me to diving and have been blessed to share my passion with my wife, daughter, and many friends. Whether diving with Harry the Humphead Wrasse in the Whitsundays, hunting lion fish in Honduras, or just swapping stories on the surface interval, scuba diving is never dull. Besides, after swimming with actual sharks for so long, opposing counsel are easy.
–David Gibson GIBSONLAWGROUP.COM
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