SHARK ENCOUNTER By Joseph A. Mandara 1

Sculpted by the eons of time into a masterpiece of nature, sharks have traversed the vast corridors of our oceans for four hundred million years. Unfortunately, with the help of Hollywood’s horrific anecdotes, we have engrained in our minds a corrupted vision of this aquatic marvel as a ferocious, blood-thirsty predator intent on devouring human flesh. As is often the case, artistic license and anecdotal evidence not always reflect, and often distort, reality.

Throughout the many dives I have taken, ranging from the murky waters of Long Island, to the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, to the undulating and shadowy kelp forests of the Pacific Ocean, I have not—except for the occasional docile nurse shark—met face to face with this legendary predator.

As a passionate scuba diver and biologist, I have often wondered if all the fears inculcated in me by the continuous bombardment of media falsehoods would cause me to panic during my first shark encounter at Stuart’s Cove in the Bahamas.

I knew the evasiveness of this animal had finally come to an end when, suddenly, I was surrounded by at least fifty Caribbean reef sharks.  The sharks swiftly appeared and disappeared from all directions, while I stood motionless, gripping a rock on the ocean floor. Caught in a vortex of these formidable animals, I became hypnotized by their elegance as they effortlessly glided toward their meal.  My body was pushed side to side as their massive frames displaced pulsating torrents of water towards me. A few even bumped into me as they sought to plunder the remains of their feed! As I looked closer, I noticed that some of their bodies were marked with scars, and that one was missing its lower jaw—signs of an embattled existence in a world of merciless competition and survival of the fittest. Their needle-like,triangular serrated teeth, so clearly visible in the unclouded waters, attested to their status as  dominant  predators.

The foraging lasted for several minutes. Soon the sharks dissipated and vanished into the cerulean waters of the Caribbean. The state of excitement and adrenaline rush soon abated and the serenity of the underwater world returned. I found myself exploring the ocean floor collecting shark teeth that were shed during the feeding frenzy.

This thrilling episode takes place everyday at Stuart’s Cove in the Bahamas. Shark bait is released on the ocean floor and suddenly a pack of Caribbean sharks surround you. It is an experience and spectacle I will never forget.

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