CHALLENGER BANKS, BERMUDA
By: James Whitaker
Sharing the water with a ten-foot Tiger shark was, for me, a terrifying and exhilarating privilege.
I’ve had a lifelong interest in sharks that straddles a fine line between fear and fascination: It was fuelled initially by movies, media and a sadistic older brother who enjoyed spoiling summer holidays by bringing books about shark attacks to the beach and later by an obsession with SCUBA diving.
I’d got past my fear (I wouldn’t call it a phobia – it’s one thing to be afraid of heights or the number 13, another to be wary of an animal that’s capable of eating you whole) to dive among reef sharks in Borneo.
But getting into local waters with a hungry, 10-foot tiger shark was never on my agenda.
Choy Aming and Neil Burnie are fearless. They’re what pop psychologists would refer to as Type A personalities. There simply aren’t enough letters in the alphabet to describe how far I fall down that scale by comparison.
If they are adrenaline junkies, I’m the guy in the ‘choose life’ T-shirt.
Just getting into the deep water at Challenger Banks – with no sharks around – had my heart jumping through my chest.
I’d been in for about 15 seconds, never more than a couple of strokes from the swim ladder at the back of the boat, when I heard Neil Burnie shout “Tigger’s here!”
A colossal tiger shark – its striped sides dappled by the sunlight – loomed into view.
It was cruising about 20 feet below the boat. It cut round in front of me, its sleek steel-grey body gliding effortlessly through the water.
For a couple of seconds I held my breath. Could it sense fear? Was I acting like shark food?
I thought about getting out. I fired off a couple of shots with the camera while backing away towards the ladder as the beast investigated the bait.
The shark took a quick look at the marlin head from about ten feet away then disappeared – it’s shape slowly dissolving into the infinite blue.
We were out for roughly five hours with the marlin head in the water and the shark turned up a total of four times, each time for no more than 20 seconds and it never took the bait. Before we arrived, Choy and Neil had been chumming the water for three hours and had seen no sharks.
Only once was I in the water when it appeared and it showed no interest in me.
Seeing it up close was far less frightening and far less dramatic than it had been in my head and certainly less daunting than snorkelling in the water, watching and waiting for it to arrive.
It just cruised along, completely ignoring us before going on its way.
In the U.S. there is an average of slightly fewer than one shark attack fatality every two years. Statistically, you’ve got more chance of being killed by a vending machine.
I was aware that I’d increased my odds by getting into the water on the banks with free food on offer, but looking at it rationally, I was probably taking a bigger risk with my life when I got on my dodgy moped later that night for the bike ride home.
Logic and reason, however, are far less powerful than instinct. The shark was an elegant and impressive animal and in this mood it was nothing like the voracious, bloodthirsty, razor-toothed stereotype of my imagination. But it wasn’t until I gave into instinct and got back on the boat that the pulse rate began to level out and I could breathe easy again.
Source: Bermuda Sun