SHARK ENCOUNTERS I WILL NOT FORGET

Image by Big Mountain Adventures

My Fascination With Shark Week

TV Image captured on Discovery Channel during Shark Week

As I write this blog in the home office, I have the the Discovery Channel playing one of the Shark Week documentaries playing in the background. It’s called “Jaws Awakens: Phred vs. Slash”. It’s a tale about two massive great white sharks that inhabit the South Pacific waters off the coast of southern New Zealand near the fishing community of Oban.

These two sharks are sized in the area of 20 feet long and brandishing a bulk of 4000 estimated pounds of body weight. Slash has a large scar on the left side of his face and Phred, with lesser marks of his own, sports the larger size in side to side comparisons. Just like in the movie JAWS, both have been reported to have attacked fishing boats and toyed with the occupants onboard.

My wife is my main deterrent when I spend hours watching these documentaries in front of her, so I am forced to limit my obsession in her favor and switch to something more appealing. This dictate from a woman who shot and killed her own deer and has no aversion to getting out of our camper truck so she can get a closer look at a coiled rattlesnake in the middle of the road on a cold morning.

My Obsession Since Youth

When I was required to create a book report in grammar school that included pictures, I discovered early on that I had an unrequited fascination for these creatures of the deep. I also found that my developing artistic skills allowed me to create marvelous drawings of them for an end product that got me an A+ grade for my efforts. But up until I went on a fishing trip to Catalina Island off the coast of Southern California as a young lad with my Dad and a friend of mine, I had never seen a shark in person.

On that particular jaunt, my friend’s line got caught up with that of another fisherman and watched helplessly as a very large Lemon Shark, a known man eater, snagged his line. His eyes bugged out, as did mine, while that hooked behemoth swam back and forth near the surface trying to free itself. Finally, with a chomp from its powerful jaws that harbored an 11 ton biting force, it snapped the steel leader on the fishing line and swam away.

After that event, I wanted to see even more of them in the wild, but subsequent outings produced no more encounters. So I had to wait until my late teenage years before seeing them again. When I did, it was an unnerving sight.

On A Research Boat And A Great White Shark Sighting

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When I worked for the City of Los Angeles as a Technician while in college, one of my duties was to go out on a city owned vessel once a week to check the quality of the water in Santa Monica Bay. Several mornings at daybreak, when the water was calm, I saw large quantities of blue sharks floating at the surface with their fins sticking out. Since they are also known to be a species that have attacked humans, I had a somewhat uneasy feeling seeing so many of them.

Sometime later, I heard on the news that a Great White Shark had been caught off the coast of Palos Verdes which is just south of Santa Monica. Since it was a reported 17 feet long, the proprietors at a facility known as Marineland Of The Pacific (back then) got hold of the creature and put the remains on display in a viewing area.

Since I was one of the hundreds of onlookers desirous of seeing the creature first hand, I had to get in line and follow the gawkers in front of me to get a peek. When I reached the viewing area, the monster just sort of lay there silently on the slab with its mouth wide open baring a horrific amount of teeth in its jaws. I knew right then and there that if it had attacked me in the water while still alive, a large section of my body would have wound up inside its stomach as my carcass drifted towards the bottom of the sea floor.

Almost Took My Gloved Hands Off

When I became a certified S.C.U.B.A diver, I took a charter dive boat with other participants out to Catalina Island once again. This time the quest involved a search for Pacific Lobsters in very cold waters where said “Bugs” were plentiful. I was alone without a buddy and brought my spear along for good measure.

At one point, while meandering along the rocky bottom near an isolated cliff, I spotted one of them under a ledge at the same time as another diver did near me. So we both went after the spiny critter at the same time and grabbed it together. As we tussled for the rights to it, a large unidentified shark swam between us and snatched the lobster out of our gloved hands. Neither one of us was injured as a result of that encounter, but that said terrifying event ended the day for both of us.

On my way back to the boat, I spotted a large canvas bag full of lobsters laying on the seabed unattended by its owner. I toyed with the idea of keeping the stash for myself, but thought better of it and hauled it back up to the boat to the delight of its owner. On the way, I swam past another large shark resting in a crevice below me.

For the record, my real preference on that particular outing was to shoot some of the oversized fish swimming nearby since I didn’t even like eating lobster back then. Unfortunately, the dive boats were geared for bagging the 8 legged critters, so I joined in with that plan of action and passed up the opportunity before me.

Other Events Of Concern

Comparison of Megalodon Tooth to Great White

When we lived on the side of a hill in an Orange County suburb of Southern California as residents of one particular house, we found a collectible item on the property. It was the tooth of a very large shark that dwarfed anything filling the jaws of the sea’s demons that inhabit the earth today. It was about 3 1/2 inches across and about 4” long.

We later learned that it was from an extinct species know as Megalodon. Top estimates from scientific documents size the beast at having a length of 60 feet and a weight of 6 tons. That is a figure that compares favorably with that of a Blue Whale, the largest creature ever to inhabit planet earth . How it got to where we found it, I will never know. The sad thing is that somebody stole it from our oldest daughter when she took it to school for a project. Bummer.

Later on, when we lived in Pensacola, Florida, I was told that if I flew in a helicopter over the local beaches when the water was calm, I would have seen numerous sharks swimming close into the shoreline. That type of sighting would have been a deterrent against me tickling my toes in the water for an occasional swim. I guarantee!

My Mundane Adventures Now

Other than spotting an occasional dead shark washed up on the shore, or a carcass floating in the open ocean near the boat I am in, my shark endeavors are relegated to perusing Great Whites attacking diver’s cages on television. Since I morph into a bit of a masochist while gazing at the screen, I often think it would be much more interesting if one of the divers slipped up and got chewed up a bit.

I suppose that is a horrible thought, but I just finished watching the movie Jaws for the umpteenth time and and relished the sight of Captain Quint sticking halfway out of the monstrous shark’s mouth. He was such a cocky character in the movie that I felt he needed to meet his match.

With that somber thought in mind, I am reminded of the time when we took our youngest daughter to the cinema theater a month after the iconic movie first came out. When the shark first appeared on the big screen, she absolutely jumped out of her seat with a terrifying look on her face. If that moment of personal fear wasn’t enough, she took another chance when we went on the Universal Studios Tour in Los Angeles that featured the Jaws ride as one of the attractions.

She didn’t know what to expect and foolishly sat next to me in the seat next to the tour boat’s railing. When the giant shark replica rose up out of the water next to her, I got up out of the seat and started filming it with my video camera. While panning the camera sideways towards where she was sitting, I found her seat empty and she was long gone. I never forgot that moment to the present day and laugh my head off when I tell someone the story. Cum si cum sa!

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