Quint: What are you? Some kind of half-assed astronaut? Jesus H Christ, when I was a boy, every little squirt wanted to be a harpooner or a sword fisherman. What d’ya have there – a portable shower or a monkey cage? Hooper: Anti-shark cage. Quint: Anti-shark cage. You go inside the cage? Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark. …Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.
It was all well and good to say that I was going to go diving with sharks, add it to my list, find a place that does it, and make a reservation. The entire time leading up to the shark dive, I was nothing but excited. Then, about 24 hours out, I began to have second thoughts. Maybe it was the fact that they had to cancel and reschedule earlier in the week due to very rough water. Maybe it’s that I expected my snorkel to just give out at a critical juncture. Maybe it’s that I heard that there was a great white shark spotted in the area earlier. It’s one thing to know that sharks are not interested in eating humans on an intellectual level, but that knowledge didn’t do much to calm down the anxious monkey brain that kept insisting that going out of my element into a predator’s element was wrongwrongwrong.
I spent most of the night before quietly panicking instead of sleeping. Whatever it was, my imagination began working overtime, envisioning all of the various ways I could Mr. Magoo myself over the side of the boat and into a shark’s mouth. Or maybe a shark jumping straight out of the water and into the boat, because my fears aren’t limited to things that could actually happen. The most ludicrous scenario seems possible at 3am.
The next morning, we checked in to North Shore Shark Adventures, and my stomach was still tied in knots. The three mile ride into the almost unbelievably blue international waters (where sharks are no longer bound by man’s laws) didn’t do much to quell my nerves. The boat lurched on the waves, and I white-knuckled a bar while the crew joked about what to do in case of emergency (“Go up top, call the coastguard, and say “mayday, mayday, it happened again”). Pardon me, I’ll just be over here, weeping with fear, because right now, going over the side doesn’t feel all that implausible. They divided us into groups and asked if we’d be interested in having them film our experience. I’d purchased an underwater camera with video prior to the trip, so I figured I’d film it myself, plus I didn’t really need any outside video evidence of my pale corpulent self fear barfing into my snorkel, even if it would make for an excellent holiday greeting card shot.
The cage itself is moored out in the ocean for the day, rather than being hauled back and forth for each tour. I was placed in group two, which gave me a little more time to try and chill out. They told us to pay careful attention to how we get in and out of the cage, as it’s one of the only points during the tour where you could actually get hurt. Not from a shark patrolling the area and determining where the humans are most vulnerable, but from the possibility of a part of your body getting mashed between the boat and the cage by the waves. I was going to have to do this glassesless, with my vision further obscured by the snorkel mask, and those things did not serve to decrease my fear and feelings of vulnerability. Having never seen the cage in its entirety nor the locations of its handholds, after I backed down the ladder into the water, I froze. I didn’t want to just blindly reach out my hand into potential shark snackville. One of the tour guys barked at me to get off the ladder and let the next person down, and yelled at Jason to come get me. Eventually Jason was able to reach over, grab my hand, and guide me to a side of the cage. I took out my snorkel and managed to choke out that I was, at that point, more scared than I had ever been in my entire life. But I told myself that I could stand anything for ten seconds, gathered my courage, and literally faced my fear.
It was incredible. The galapagos sharks we saw weren’t interested in the cage or its occupants at all, and swam around us, all power and grace. Occasionally you’d see one rising from the depths, and it was awe-inspiring. The twenty minutes of our drop passed so quickly–as uncomfortable as I am in the water, I could have watched the sharks for hours.
The sharks aren’t chummed (which is illegal, and also no one wants to swim in bloody pink chum water) and are instead drawn to the sounds of the engine which they associate with the crab fishing boats in the area, which have tossed their leftover bait back into the water since the 60s. The tour operator also regularly tossed a water bottle tied to a line into the water, which gave the sharks something to investigate. He said that the object being a water bottle or floating or made of metal had no effect on the sharks’ interest, and that he could throw in a hat and get the same result; it was the sound of something striking the water that made them both interested and competitive.
One thing the shark adventure groups do recommend is taking anti nausea medication before departing, and after watching two people on our tour run to the back of the boat to vomit because of the choppy water, I have to agree. It looks like the lawless sharks aren’t the thing to be afraid of after all.