It was one of those afternoon swims with my colleague when we encountered a curious blacktip reef shark.
Halfway through our swim, I saw two blacktips coming our way. I looked at where they were heading, and they went straight into that school of black fishes. They swam around the school. And me being the curious human, a spectator of their snack time, stopped swimming, floated on a standing position, hands crossed over my chest, and watched the hunt.
One of the sharks swam away. The other swam towards the floating foreign object – that is me. It headed straight towards my feet, just a few inches out, then swam back to where the school is. I watched as it swam in circles and waited for what’s next. As I have guessed, it went straight to me again, and its head was just a few inches away from my feet. I was still as steady as a brick wall, although I was getting a bit scared already.
I told myself that if the shark does that one more time, I’m going to swim for my life.
And. It. Did.
I swam as fast as I could and hid behind my colleague’s back. We slowly swam away and kept looking back to check if the curious shark was following us. Luckily it wasn’t anymore.
I. Was. Relieved.
I shared this story with one of our elder colleagues, the legendary swimmer who can swim between three islands nonstop, and he shared his shark encounter. In the early 2000s, during one of his swims, something suddenly hit his head. When he stopped and looked, it was a shark. It swam around him several times. He didn’t know what to do at that time, but then the shark went away after few minutes of checking on him.
When the first-ever Marine Biologist of our resort arrived, he shared this story and asked about the shark’s behavior. The Marine Biologist then explained to him that the sharks are curious to see foreign things on the water, meaning – us humans, and they have three ways of checking if we are ‘edible’ for them or not:
- They bump into that foreign thing
- They swim around that foreign thing
- They bite that thing to know if they are food or not
I’ve seen several documentaries testing if sharks are attracted to human blood or urine, and it seems they don’t. Hence, many surfers who got bitten by sharks survived because they were probably mistaken for food, but after tasting them and aren’t up to the shark’s palate, they were left alone. Unfortunately for them, the curious sharks already ripped off their arms or legs.
Luckily in the Maldives, sharks aren’t aggressive as those found in Hawaii, Australia, and South Africa. Great White, Bull Sharks, and other aggressive ones thrive in cold water, and Maldives water is too warm for them, so I am pretty lucky that these sharks won’t check me by procedure number 3. Whew!
I don’t usually encounter a lot of curious sharks. This incident is a one-off experience. I don’t write it to scare my readers away but raise awareness that sharks aren’t enemies, unlike the usual perception of them because of how media portrayed them. When I saw The Meg’s trailer (starred by Jason Statham and one Megalodon Shark), I just face-palmed. It takes many years to educate people that what they see in Jaws isn’t real, and there we go, with another movie.
I’m no expert on sharks, but since I swim with them every day, I note their behavior. So far, I am more curious about them than they are of me (meaning – they don’t care about me), and a lot of them are scared of me than I am of them.