Friday, October 26, 2007

The Oceanic White-Tip Shark

As my friends know, I don't scuba dive, but I often accompany Lenny on dive boats. In May, 2005, we had a week of extraordinary diving and snorkeling conditions off Kona, Hawaii. One day on the way to the dive site, we saw a pod of pilot whales. We got in the water and took a look. One whale had a calf with her. The experience was profound.

Between dives, the divers must wait for a while for safety reasons. During this interval, our very knowledgeable guide took us to the spot where he thought we could again see the pilot whales. He warned us that in the Kona area, oceanic white-tip sharks often follow the pilot whales. In this case, two sharks were circling each other in a tight circle, not far from the whales. We all got in the water to snorkel over and see them. The guides were very excited, as it's an unusual sighting. One of them used Lenny's camera to take several photos as he dived down to be nearer to them. Here is one of these photos:

The sharks were fascinating. I didn't think about danger much, though I'm anything but brave. After I watched them for a while, I decided to go back to the boat. When I said so, the guide took my arm and said:

"Don't leave the group!"

I was amazed. I really didn't have a sense of danger.

This month's Alert Diver magazine has more about these animals:
Jacques Cousteau called the oceanic white-tip "the most dangerous of all sharks." Surprisingly, this shark is the cause of more fatal shark attacks than all other sharks combined, and the total number of fatalities is probably in the thousands.
I'm even more amazed to learn this. The author, John Monk, concludes with a conservation message:
While it's important to support efforts to protect all sea life, it's important to protect sharks to maintain a healthy marine environment.

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