I’m going to share a secret. When I was a new diver, I was afraid of sharks. I mean REALLY afraid of sharks! I was secretly convinced that every toothy fish in the ocean was on a personal mission to seek me out, wherever I was in the ocean, and ambush me when I never even knew they were there. Thousands of dives and over a decade of underwater experience later, I understand the truth about these apex predators and look back at those old feelings of fear and understand that they came from what can only be described as inexperience.
Picture me: a relatively new speara, with my gleaming and untarnished gear cruising along the reef on a spectacularly blue water day. I’m peering into the rocks and ledges of the underwater terrain when up ahead of me, I spot a large nurse shark resting quietly in the sand. “I won’t bother you, if you won’t bother me,” I thought.
Many will read this blog and scoff, “It’s a nurse shark. They don’t even have any teeth! What’s the big deal?” Well, let me assure you that nurse sharks get hungry too! Just a few weeks prior on my dive trip to the Marquesas I’d been harassed and followed to the surface by a 12-foot nurse shark because she wanted my bag of lobsters. I respect ALL marine life and appreciate it when they respect my personal space too.
As I neared the resting shark, I’d intended to quietly float past and be on my merry way. Suddenly, the shark began to thrash and struggle against the rocks and I realized in a quick moment that she was hooked in the mouth. The fishing line was a messy web of trash tangled on the reef. I kicked against current for a moment and watched the creature fight and battle for freedom and then, exhausted, drop to the sand to regain its strength. I turned away from the shark and allowed the current to push me down the reef away from the struggle, but kept looking back over my shoulder to watch the scene unfold. The shark’s efforts were futile and the more he thrashed about, the more ensnared he became. The mermaid within me took over and couldn’t let this comrade of the sea just suffer and die. Ugh. I had to do something, I knew.
I descended all the way to the bottom of the ocean floor and crept back along the craggy bottom, pulling myself against the current and back to the shark. When I was about 15 feet away, the shark, sensing its tenuous position, tried to flee from me and darted under a nearby ledge. “This is funny,” I thought. “You’re afraid of me.”
Since she was now cornered and fearful, I was unsure of what her reaction would be to my approach and attempt at assistance. I did my best to put rocks and boulders between us while I slashed at the snarled fishing line and shoved it into my BC pockets. Finally, it was time to cut her free. I crawled ever so slowly over the rocks that were separating us and with my gleaming dive knife, reached out closer and closer towards the shark’s mouth. I began to fret. What if the shark tried to defend itself from a perceived attack and lashed out at me? “At least I have a knife in my hand,” I thought.
With a flick of my wrist, the line popped free and the shark darted in the opposite direction towards freedom. I hooted a silent “hooray!” for a successful rescue and called after her, “Please tell all your friends that I saved you! And maybe you can put in a good word for me – I’m an "ocean loveher!!”