By Chase Sheldon
I have had the opportunity, and the privilege, of being in the water with sharks a total of three times in my life. Well, three times in my life so far, and I have no desire to stop now. The first and third times only involved a single shark, found randomly swimming through the open ocean, and I wasn’t diving that third time, only swimming, but the second time, I was in the waters around Nassau in the Bahamas, surrounded on all sides by what must have been over sixty sharks. They were Caribbean Reef Sharks, not an overly dangerous species, but one with grace and attitude. Sharks are a fascinating group of animals, dangerous certainly, but fascinating and wondrous all the same. They seem to glide unlike any other creature I know of, on land or sea. I would have to say that they are less like lions or wolves, and more like eagles or other birds of prey. Swiftness and sleek movement is their weapon, their jaws swoop in like talons of a great bird to strike out, and their attacks are over before most realize they have begun.
While the first and third times with sharks in the water were more coincidence than any sort of planning, the second time is where these predators' natural beauty and veracity truly shined. This was a planned venture into the waters where these animals lived, to their homes, under the guidance of skilled and experienced divers who had been working with these animals for years. These divers took us off the coast, driving to what seemed to be a random spot in the ocean, where we prepared to dive. I was younger at the time, and I remember distinctly how I was with my father on the dive down led by the head diver with a milk crate of chum, moving past massive rock formations until we reached the circle. A circle of stones had been set up, and we had been directed to each grab hold of one, to keep us in place. With my father to my right, it wasn’t long at all before the first shark appeared. It seemed to come out of the blue, appearing from nowhere and swam right past my left, close enough for me to see the teeth as it moved. It glided through the trail left behind by the chum.
It wasn’t long after this that the shiver of sharks appeared. Soon that single shark turned into ten, then twenty, then forty, until every way we turned we were surrounded by teeth and fins. Some came so close that you had to move back to avoid hitting them, while others went straight in from above, chomping down on bits and chunks of fish that the divers were releasing from the crates. My eyes had to keep moving, had to keep going from one individual to the next because there were so many of them. Twist your head just a little bit to the side and you saw another ten, with one close enough to touch. These creatures weren’t bothering me though, they weren’t trying to bite me or anyone else who was there. While some might have rubbed up against me as they swam, none did so to test the waters, as it were. At that moment, man and shark had reached a balance. We watched, they moved, and the world changed for me forever.