Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shark Bait

Shark Bait

In case you didn’t know, I’m a Floridian. The ocean does not scare me. However, I hold a healthy respect for stingrays, jellyfish, man-o-war’s, the sharks, and any other creature that may deem me an in-between-meal snack.

One day this summer I found myself on a glass-bottom-boat tour in the Bahamas. The boat was older, privately owned, but still a sea-worthy vessel. The captain stopped the boat in forty foot, crystal clear waters. The first mate tells us the fish are plentiful and will come to the boat if we throw fish food overboard. Which he is selling for two dollars a cup. I smile and decline, as the others clamor for their wallets.

As a school of yellow tail snapper swarm beneath the hull and fight for the food thrown overboard, I catch a glimpse of something gliding by further below, probably thirty to forty feet further down. A man-eater. I think it’s a sand shark, but it’s hard to tell from the straight down angle through the double pane glass.

My first thought was the shark came to feed on the yellow tails. Then I became concerned for the dive boat off of our port bow. I wanted to talk to the captain so he could give warning. I found him on the upper deck, holding a line strung through a barracuda. I keep my concerns to myself and scurry back down to the lower deck. The Bahamian captain displayed a confidence handling the line. There was something about to take place that I did not want to miss, no matter how respectful I may be toward to the terrifying sea life.

The view to the bottom now shows not one, but three sharks, far below, gliding back and forth, as if keeping sentry. The intercom announces to the passengers the captain has a ‘treat’ for us, and we should all come to the starboard side to catch a glimpse of a great white.

Every one of us lined up, cameras ready. I found a spot on the starboard side with a view of the upper deck where the captain stood, all the way to the water surface below. I cued up the video.

The captain dropped the barracuda attached by a rope into the water. Within five seconds he had a bite. He and his first mate heaved the line to withdraw from the water a six-foot behemoth, holding the offered shark bait with row upon row of dagger shaped teeth.

They continued to pull this monster from another age up and out of the water, until the thing was within an arm’s reach of the crew on the upper deck. Literally. An arm’s reach. The Captain, still holding the line with one hand, reached out and pets the damn thing. He pets the snout, inches from those blades of teeth!

After the display, the crew lowered the rope the living nightmare held through the barracuda. When the tip of the shark’s tail touched the water’s surface, the jaws clamped shut, biting through the bait, and the beast fell back with a minimum of water displacement. Two thirds of the barracuda swung on the tether. The nervous passengers were asked over the intercom if we’d like to see the shark again.

A second lowering of the shark bait brought a fight amongst the monstrosities. Shark noses, eyes and jaws broke the surface in a frenzied froth. The shark that won the battle for the bloody remnants was pulled out of the water as the first had been. To say the six-footer was the behemoth was an overstatement. The second shark’s tail barely cleared the water as the Captain, from the upper deck, cooed and petted the living nightmare. Again, as the show came to an end, and the crew lowered the colossus to the surface, the moment the tail touched water the teeth of the ancient predator ripped through the barracuda and splashed back to the depths from which it rose.

Afterwards, I watched my video recording of the first shark. The angle, the lighting, the Captain, the shark, and even the barracuda were recorded perfectly from my spot on the starboard side. While not a great white, I’m pretty sure it was a thresher, but it could have been a sand shark. Gratitude is offered to my fellow passengers for screaming, scurrying from the rail, and staying out of my camera shot for the entire show. What did you think? The sharks would fly over the rail and eat you?

Well, then again...

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