Special repost by request. Well, that and #SharkWeek kicks off on my birthday this year.
Color me excited to meet my first shark, near a Kona coral reef. (Hammerheads go there for a personal spa day where some of the fish clean off barnacles). Now that I’ve been fortunate to come to Hawaii’s Big Island for work and play, I have a few stories that start with, “the first time I saw whales or got in the water with sharks”. Sure, my “AdrenaLin” side craved the next oceanic opportunity. With ideal timing, my friend/Bridescoop editor and I explored Hawaii’s Big Island, including our own Pacific day with Jeff of Silva Water Sports and Tours . We were incredibly lucky to discover 80+ wild spinner dolphin in the shallows of a hidden gem local spot; we enjoyed several peaceful hours swimming with them. Later we happened upon several Oceanic Whitetips - I recognized it - feeding frenzy! I was invited to put on my mask and looked over the side for a shark close-up. I did and it was exhilarating!
Next Pacific Day we targeted open ocean adventures. I swam with feral spinner dolphin and even wilder spotted bottled nose dolphin. Yes, I did feel a primal pang of uncertainly while swimming the profound open ocean for the first time. Whoosh! The spotted dolphin pod was full of speed demons compared to the resting spinners in the shallows. The spotted ones feed on mahi mahi, some of the White tips’ favorite food. While exploring, we discovered a floating log/food chain microcosm. More feeding frenzy. Under his breath Jeff told me to play it cool as a boat trolled by wondering what we had discovered in this part of the Pacific. He told me he wanted his shot at what was under the log – and that there were things that I had hoped to find. Hmmm, worth the wait? I hope so. A few nods and friendly waves later, we were the only boat for miles. The log was ours. Well, it was Jeff’s, and I was happy to hold on tight for the ride. In a flash Jeff set his sights on big mahi, jumped into his spear fishing gear and dove in to compete with three White tips. I’m alone in the boat with splashes and thrashes all around. I can’t help but think “We are not on Lake Michigan anymore!”
The Kona sun highlighted flashes of white, grey…and red in the deep blue Pacific. Jeff surfaced. “Wow - these guys are testy”. Me: “What does that mean?!” Jeff: “It means they’re swimming at me with open mouths and bumping.” Gulp. SPLASH. Two sharks under the boat. “Open the fish box!” After several gorgeous mahi and Jeff hand-feeding the sharks I hear. “This is the real deal.” Double gulp. I think I do want to get in…
“Do NOT make a splash. Deep breath. “If I motion for you to get back in the boat make it happen immediately.”
I’m a decent swimmer, but I’ve never swum with an apex predator *.
I eased in with my snorkel gear, then stayed near Jeff and his spear gun, uncaged. And it was an amazing, white-knuckle and beautiful chance! I saw a White tip swim right in front of us and another off to our side – maybe 12 feet long.
When I got back to land I submerged myself in a hot tub, with a peaceful smile and let is all sink in. Then I booked several spa days, with a huge grin. Yes, I had to tell a few mainland friends about this and write about it to get in a thriller kind of mood for the travel trilogy. One of my favorite comments: “Were you wearing life jackets?” Well, no. No, we were not. When I took that friend out on a Pacific tour with Jeff, I found out we were spear gun free this time. We’ll have to find out what other adventures and creature we found…more on that next time I’m travelin’
*I learned that Great Whites do not frequent The Big Island, so white tips and occasional visiting Tiger sharks top the food chain.