Rob’s theory of hiking in bear country is that you don’t have to be faster than the bear, you only have to be faster than your slowest hiking partner. Likewise, that same theory holds with diving; you don’t have to swim faster than the sharks, just your dive buddies. After we dropped out of our dinghy yesterday and descended into 60′ of water outside the pass at Bora Bora I thought we were going to have a chance to test out that theory. But with the intense adrenaline rush I was feeling I may have actually won that race.
As I tied us up to one of the empty dive buoys we had noticed there weren’t any other divers in the water at the time. With the huge amount of traffic they get at that dive site every day we were happy not having to avoid a mass of underwater tourists. We approached the bottom of the reef at about 60′, got our buoyancy and gear adjusted, then checked to figure out if there was current and which way it was running. Since we dive without a local guide we never know what we’ll find. If there is current on the dive we always swim against the current first and drift back to our dinghy.
Rob gave the signal to swim south, paralleling the reef and heading away from the pass against a very slight incoming current. I turned and begin to check out the reef below me as I swam along. As I glanced back towards Rob I saw him looking past me towards the edge of the reef. He signaled for me to look and sure enough, there was a 6-8′ lemon shark swimming past and checking us out from about 20′ away. We’ve been diving with sharks ever since we got to Cocos in March and have become accustomed to the completely non-threatening reef sharks. We had a little 4′ black tipped reef shark swim in Moorea with us all the way up and back waiting for a snack. Lemon sharks, however, are truly a shark of a different color.
The lemon shark is reported to be dangerous and unpredictable, but their natural behavior is to shy away from humans. Moments later a 10′ lemon shark swam right toward us, coming within 6-8′ of us. Rob turned toward it to face it, betraying his carefully laid plans of outswimming his dive buddy. Finally it swam off. I signaled a thumbs up to Rob, which when diving doesn’t mean “cool”, it means “let’s get the hell out of here and go to the surface”. He looked surprised and when I realized they were both gone I decided to continue on with the dive. I was nervous and looking over my shoulder for about 20 minutes (as was Rob I found out later) and finally realized their initial assessment was that we weren’t that tasty looking.
Yesterday afternoon we were chatting with our friend Neville who had dove the site earlier with a guide and mass of tourists, and he confirmed that the guides here do indeed feed the lemon sharks. Our two lemon colored buddies yesterday were just looking for a handout. We think that feeding sharks whose natural behavior is unpredictable and dangerous, in order to amuse your tourists and increase your tip, is totally irresponsible. We’ll pass on another dive outside this reef and I’ll say no thanks to lemons for a while.