A shark story

The fatal shark attack yesterday at Muriwai reminds me of my one and only shark encounter.

A couple of years ago I was holidaying at a pacific island. Was staying in a bungalow on the beach and got there a day before FOD (Friend of DPF). The sea looked lovely so I went in for a swim.

Had a lovely half hour enjoying the warm ocean, swimming around.

The following day was joined by FOD and we decided to go swimming. I’d found that the coral reef around 20 metres out was shallow enough that you almost scraped yourself swimming over it, so suggested we dive off the end of the wharf, around 75 metres out.

I dove in first and the water was beautiful. The whole sea was warm but at the end of the wharf was an especially warm spot. You were surrounded by tropical fish. It was like being in a movie set.

I encouraged FOD to dive in also but she said she was concerned about sharks. I laughed and said that I was out swimming yesterday and didn’t see any sharks and not to be so silly and to come in.

She again said she was worried, and how could I know that there were no sharks. I pointed out that there was a second coral reef around half a km out and I doubted sharks could even get in past it.

Frustratingly she still expressed concern and her shark phobia was getting annoying. Now by chance I had been reading that very morning the book Superfreakonomics. One of the chapters of this excellent book was on shark attacks and on how the Jaws movie had terrified the world about sharks, but in fact fatal shark attacks are very rare.

So I quoted Superfreakonomics to FOD, and cited the passage that on average there are only four fatal shark attacks a year and 200 fatal elephant attacks so 50 times as many people die from elephants (and I suspect people spend more time in oceans than they do near elephants).

Now around 10 seconds after I finished citing the incredibly low probability of shark attacks to FOD, she then yelled out “David there’s a shark behind you“.

Now naturally I laughed. I’m not that gullible. I responded that I’m not going to fall for such an obvious joke and remained where I was in the water, facing the wharf and the shore.

FOD then yelled out “No I’m serious, there is a shark behind you, get out“. I paused briefly and considered that this may not be a practical joke. It is the sort of practical joke I would play on someone else, but not the sort of joke FOD would play. So I responded with a challenge and said if she was having me on I would make it my mission to throw her in the water until an actual shark does turn up.

FOD then yells out “Get the fuck out now”. It dawns on me that she is actually serious and there is a shark approaching me from behind. I immediately start swimming very very very quickly towards the wharf and haul myself out of the water as quickly as possible. Adrenaline is flowing and the heart beat elevated.

Once up on the wharf I start looking for this alleged shark and I’m still a tiny bit skeptical that there really was a shark behind me. After around 20 seconds no sign of a shark and I am threatening to throw FOD in the water. But then I see a shark swim in front of the wharf. It is around 5 feet in length and I turn slightly pale. It has enough of a jaw on it that it would be highly unpleasant (to say the least) to have it on your leg or arm.

I gracefully concede to FOD that there was a shark, and I may owe her my thanks. She remarks though that she doesn’t think that is the shark she saw. I say of course it would be. Then a few seconds later an approx 11 foot shark swims by, and she exclaims “That’s what I saw“.  I turn an even more pale shade of pale as this shark is definitely big enough to make a meal of you. Then two more sharks turn up and I am watching four sharks swim about the exact spot I was in less than a minute earlier. I begin mentally cursing the authors of Superfreakonomics!

It occurs to me that we should warn someone that there are now four sharks in the water. I locate the resort manager and tell him about the four sharks. He exclaims “Oh yes, they come around every day“. He then offers me the chance to see him feed them at 5 pm. The time was 4 pm.

A thought occurs to me, and I ask “Where exactly do you feed them?” and he said “Off the end of the wharf“.

The remaining blood in my circulation freezes as I consider not only was I in the water with four sharks, I was swimming in their dining room!

Needless to say there was no more beach swimming on that holiday.

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