Sharks of the Pacific and Indian Ocean (Page 2)
The sky is a clear blue; it is hot; the ocean is flat, glassy calm. Below us in the seemingly transparent water, a saddle-shaped bommie, Killibob's Knob, reaches to within 50 feet of the surface. That familiar shark dive excitement is obvious about the deck as we suit up. We all know what is coming next-sharks. What we don't know is what kinds or how many. That's part of what is so cool about this; no matter how many shark dives you do, no two are ever the same.
As we settle in around the bait, which is tied to the buoy, just at the peak of the bommie, the sharks are suddenly there, almost before we are. First, there are White-tipped Reef Sharks, long and slender, brownish-gray with white tips on their dorsal fins and tails. They are a leisurely shark, accustomed to spending a lot of time lying on the bottom. Now they're more active, but still leisurely.That changes quickly when the first Silvertip arrives. He streaks in, his muscled, torpedo body communicating clearly that he is an athletic, speedy predator. The Whitetips scatter as he lunges at the bait, gulping mouthfuls.
In moments there are three Silvertips on the scene. Circling, eyeing us, unafraid, they approach closely enough for us to see the little details that stick in our memories-the way the mouth is slightly agape, a clean pink inside, teeth a pearly enamel. The way the burnished pewter skin flows into purest white at the edge of each fin and the tail. The way the eyes are bright, eager-almost like cats, active, at play.
Before it's over, Gray Reef Sharks arrive as well, a bit more shy, obviously giving way to the Silvertips' dominance. They circle warily, attracted to the smell of the bait, but daunted by the Silvertips' aggressive presence.We hang, suspended, watching the interplay of every moment, storing away the impressions from another incredible experience in the sea. Again, we've felt the destruction of our innate, misperceptions about sharks and the casting away of those irrational fears we all seem to know. Instead, we are mesmerized by some of the ocean's most beautiful creatures, who, contrary to our unconscious expectations, have allowed us into their midst-without threat, without harm, without rancor-Al Hornsby.
Palau's Blue Corner is one of those rare dive sites whose magic has been undiminished over a 25 year period. I was fortunate to be among its early tourists, diving the site for the first time in 1973. From that day on, my regular excursions have always culminated in dives at this unforgettable place. They are now indelible memories, to be replayed periodically, whenever I daydream of past moments at the world's greatest dive sites (actually, I tend to do that a lot).
The formation known as Blue Corner is an immense, prow-like coral mass that projects from the mainline of outer reef, near the corner of the vast Ngemelis Pass. At the top, the formation is roughly 60 feet beneath the surface.
When currents flow both along the reefline and through the colossal pass, they create an intense flow of nutrients streaming over and around the corner. Sometimes these currents can be difficult to navigate, but normally one can makeway across any current without fighting to progress directly into it.
The nutrients in these currents support a gigantic food chain on and about Blue Corner. Corals, tropical reef fish, anemones, soft corals, gorgonians, schooling jacks and toothy Barracuda-much of the marine life that defines the Pacific as great diving-can be found here.
At any of the planet's best dive sites, there will always be sharks. To my mind,they are the inevitable star at the top of the tree, the crowning glory of the food chain, the characteristic element of a world-class dive.
On my last dive at the Blue Corner, I dropped down on the northern face, tarrying briefly along the wall whose Hollywood Bowl-like caverns are embroidered with every imaginable coral, crinoid, anemone, gorgonian and reef fish. I remember stopping to gaze at a particular gorgonian that had graced the cover of one of my books. Hello, old friend!
Then, to save air and time, I rose to the plateau, where a large school of Barracuda lazily socialized in the haze of a sleepy afternoon. On the flats a couple of serene White-tipped Reef Sharks wandered, neither interested nor disinterested in my intrusion. One gets the impression that these hard-eyed warriors have seen everything.
Over the prow of the formation I saw two Gray Reef Sharks patrolling below at about 80 feet; then a Silvertip came up out of the deep blue, eyed me, apparently dismissed me and wandered back down into the infinite depths. As I left the prow and moved along the southern side, I was thrilled to see a wonderful cream-colored Cat Shark with chocolate-brown spots sweeping placidly by along the reef edge. It, too, neither sped up nor avoided me, merely went routinely about its business.
Ho-hum, another day diving Blue Corner! I've never had a bad dive there, and most have been a raging success. There have been huge schools of Barracuda in crystal water, turtles-ah, the memories come flooding back! I just love the place!-Carl Roessler.
There is no other feeling on earth quite like it. Part of it is being in full diving gear, suspended in a shark cage; you feel as if you are a mile below that surface, despite clearly seeing above you the boat from which you are hanging suspended.
Mentally you are immersed in a cauldron, stewing in a rich brew of anxiety and exhilaration, urgency and dread, cold yet not cold all fighting for your attention at once. You and your cage partners are trying to look in all directions simultaneously, for somewhere out there in all that water is the magisterial Presence that brought you 10,000 miles to this site.
Reaching down, you squeeze the ten gallon drum lashed to the inside of the cage; immediately, a great black cloud of liquid that you know is blood fills your chaotic universe.
Minutes later, as the water slowly clears, a mental charge of electric excitement jolts you-there, out at the limit of visibility a great gray form passes from nothingness to nothingness. A moment later you aren't even sure you really saw what you saw. Minutes pass interminably because of your impatience and excitement-then from the opposite direction, something lethal this way comes. How can one describe that immense, slow, living torpedo as it bores straight in on you?
When you first see the Great White Shark, you are very happy for all the preparation that took place before you descended in this cage. The huge, stable boat above you, the mast and winch to raise and lower the cage full of divers with ease, the careful, proven systems the divemasters use to control the dives are all confidence-builders.
So, with your mind in total turmoil over the huge White Shark now circling your cage, you forget the boat, the crew, everything. As if on a mission to Mars, you are down here all alone with the huge shark. I can tell you from spending more than 450 hours in those cages that they are the loneliest, most glorious few cubic feet on earth.
Often, large White Sharks will circle the cage repeatedly, their great black-agate eyes watching you carefully. The message is clear; the shark knows you are the drumstick-it just needs to figure out how to open the fridge.
What an indescribable feeling it is to be the total focus of a Great White Shark's attention. In fact, I love that adrenaline rush so much that I'll be off to South Australia again soon for my own 23rd and 24th cruises there!-Carl Roessler.
Dive! Dive! Dive!" Upon hearing the divemaster's cry, we wasted little time getting in the water. We were diving the Burma Banks, a series of widely separated seamounts in the Andaman Sea, far off the west coast of Thailand and Burma. Descending through clear blue water, we could easily make out coral heads below, scattered across an expansive plateau at about 50 feet. As we finned to the east, the reef sloped away to a sand bottom, leveling off at 150 feet. From there, it's only a minute's swim to the 1,000 foot drop, but we were far more interested in the moderate depths.
Arriving on the slope, we were immediately surrounded by dense schools of Fusiliers, followed by Goatfish, Giant Surgeonfish, then Pyramid Butterflyfish. During the moments we could see through the fish, we noticed the exquisite coral growth; the slope was covered with layers of delicate Lettuce Corals, punctuated by soft corals, which swayed like a forest of vivid purple aquatic cauliflower.
The scenery was so enchanting I think we could have spent the entire dive just soaking it up, but something seemed to remind us of our main purpose in diving here-sharks! Actually, it would have been hard to forget, as streamlined shapes quickly materialized in the distance. Within moments, the sharks were much closer, now circling casually within 20 feet, getting a good look at the bubble-blowing newcomers.
Stunningly beautiful, the robust yet streamlined sharks paraded past, sun glinting off their charcoal backs and bronze flanks. Distinctive white edges on all their fins confirmed their identity; these were Silvertips, a bold, active species usually seen only on deep oceanic reefs. Moving with the calm self-assurance an apex predator, the Silvertips came even closer now, often cruising within nearly touching distance, making for great photo and video ops. As strobes fired and tapes rolled, most of us quickly exhausted our batteries and film, in spite of trying to exercise self-restraint! Before we knew it, time was up and we reluctantly started toward safety stop depth. Drifting along, watching the sleek shapes below, I think we all shared the same thought-how quickly could we get back in with these impressive predators, the Silvertips of Burma Banks?-Mark Strickland.