Recap of Shark Encounter on STX - June 3, 2020

Today started early with a midnight moonlight departure from Little Inagua Island after a spectacular dive, a great meal and then a roaring bonfire ashore post-dinner. It was another magical day, evening and night. Little Inagua is a deserted island and we anchored off of her shores to do a little bit of troubleshooting on our RADAR system. While we were at it, we threw on SCUBA gear to check out the bottom of the boat and make sure we were clear of any obstructions and, wouldn’t you know it, we happened to be RIGHT on top of an amazing underwater wall, so we took a little swim-about and had an absolutely amazing dive!

Little Inagua is a tiny, deserted island surrounded by about a quarter mile of shallow sand that is perfect to anchor in, and then, almost unbelievably, the bottom of the ocean drops off immediately to over a thousand feet! This is great for SCUBA because the pelagics (large ocean-going fish) often swim to these areas to take advantage of (eat) the smaller reef fish that live in the shallower areas, and it’s always great to see pelagic fish on a dive.

The water was so unbelievably clear that you could see down easily a couple of hundred feet. We saw a turtle, several Queen triggerfish, parrot fish, grouper (delicious for dinner), lionfish (removed from the reef and turned into ceviche), blue tangs, angelfish, grunts, barracuda, cobia, some huge barrel sponges, gorgeous coral heads, and more. It was absolutely amazing! We got some great video and will work on editing that down soon. This has to be one of the top three dives of my diving career, and after several hundred dives, that is saying a lot.

We did not see any pelagic fish on this dive, which, quite honestly, was fine with me as, on my last SCUBA dive in St Croix, I was CHARGED BY AN ACTUAL SHARK (OK, it MAY have been a baby shark, but everything looks bigger under water, right?!?) and had to kick at it and jam my video camera in its’ face to get it to leave me alone. It charged my dive buddy Nim THREE TIMES and he kicked it away each time, but it kept returning. It was NUTS. I have been somewhat reluctant to mention this because I don’t want to scare people away from diving. I have been diving with sharks literally all over the world and have NEVER seen anything like this. We fed Lemon sharks in French Polynesia and swam with Bull sharks while they were being chummed in Belize (OK, I think I might need to get my head examined at some point), but we were never accosted like this.

The events that led up to this encounter were that we were doing this great dive called “Armageddon” off St Croix. It’s the remains of a large pier that was destroyed in Hurricane Hugo. We splashed and descended and were seeing all kinds of fish and the water was very clear. We were at about 80’ and the dive goes down to at least 100’, maybe a little more. There were a couple of reef sharks swimming along, getting closer to us than usual, but not being aggressive, so I was just filming them with the GoPro on the GoPole. Nothing really out of the ordinary.

Later in the dive, Dirk located and speared a lionfish (lionfish are an invasive species in the Caribbean, laying two million eggs per year, reproducing every four days! Lionfish can live for decades and are voracious consumers of the other small juvenile fish on the reef, eating as many as 20 small reef fish in just 30 minutes. So, we do what we can to help control the lionfish population, though the odds are stacked against us.) At any rate, Dirk had the lionfish on the spear when one of the sharks became interested in it. That’s fine, we are used to that, and once the sharks figure out they can eat the lionfish, we hope that the lionfish will have found a natural predator that can help to control the population. So shark #1 swims by and grabs the lionfish off the spear. No problem. Then shark #2 gets SUPER PISSED because there’s none for him and that is when he started charging us. Holy cow! First, he went after my friend Nim, and I was watching this and as the shark started to approach him I really thought nothing of it because, again, we dive with them all of the time, and I have never seen them this aggressive. When I saw Nim kicking at it I realized, crap, I might actually have to defend myself here, so I kept my eyes peeled, and sure enough that shark made a bee line right for me, so I kicked him and he still advanced so I jabbed at him in the face with the camera and then he swam away from me. He circled around the three divers (Dirk, Nim and myself) and came back at Nim again two more times! Sheesh! The shark was still interested, and kept circling us, but Dirk swam between the shark and Nim and myself with the pole spear extended to discourage the shark advancing again.

After all of that, I was about ready to climb out and start walking on the surface of the water, but we had been deep enough for long enough that we absolutely had to do a safety stop and we could not just surface safely at the time, so we confirmed with each other that we were all OK, collected ourselves, tried to slow the breathing rate, actually finished the dive, then did a safety stop and finally swam back to the boat and were sitting there bobbing in the water talking about it and I said, “Um, why don’t we get OUT of the water for this discussion since our heads are out and our bodies are in and we cannot see what is going on down there?!?” So that is what we did.

The best part of all of this is that just as shark #1 took the lionfish off of the spear, I thought, “hey, why don’t I film this,” so I turned the GoPro back on, and as a result. I have the entire shark episode on video! I can’t believe I was actually able to record it, because if I hadn’t turned the camera on right when I did, I would not have been able to turn it on once the action really started. It turns out that these sharks are used to the locals spearing the lionfish and they are known on St Croix for being pretty feisty, with lionfish hunters often having to bop the sharks on the nose to make them go away. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to have to get close enough to an advancing shark to have to sock it in the face, thanks just the same.

Just another day at the office folks.

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