When I was a young girl I saw Jaws at the movie theater. I was so scared that on the way home I irrationally imagined that a giant shark was going to jump out of a side street and get me! Years later I became a certified scuba diver here on Maui. Although I understood (intellectually anyway) that my original movie-induced fears were ridiculous, I still thought I would be afraid to see a shark in the water. I also thought I would be afraid to look in a cave.
Well…soon after certification, I started diving in Maui a lot. While on my first dive at Five Graves, I looked in my first cave and saw my first shark! At least I faced both my fears at once! Remember that I said I THOUGHT I would be afraid. The truth is that in that moment, I actually wanted to get closer to get a better look at this 4’-5’ white tip reef shark which was gliding around in the cave.
Because a shark has cartilage instead of bones, it moves very gracefully. This animal, as all sharks I have been privileged to see in my scuba adventures, was majestic. It did not appear to mind my presence at the mouth of the cave. It certainly did not act in an aggressive manner. As it turns out, instead of being vicious man-eating monsters as portrayed in Jaws, reef sharks are considered to be docile unless hunting for prey, generally at night. Their food usually consists of reef fish, not humans.
Since that initial experience, I have always felt fortunate any time a gray reef shark has glided by at Molokini, a white tip reef shark has rested in a lava tube I am diving in at Makena Landing, a school of scalloped hammerhead sharks has swam around me at Socorro in Mexico, or a school of bull sharks or nurse sharks go by in Fiji.
Scuba diving has given me, among many things, the gift of facing down some of my most
irrational fears. From a psychological point of view, I am fascinated that I THOUGHT I would be afraid to see a shark, but the reality was very different. I wonder how many experiences in life we avoid because of anticipation anxiety…
I’d love to hear about the first time you saw a shark while scuba diving in Maui (or wherever you first saw one), so feel free to post them here!
p.s. If you would like to learn more about sharks in Hawaii, and how to get involved in shark conservation, call Maui Dreams at 808-874-5332 and sign up for my Shark Conservation presentation on Wednesday, August 22, 2-4pm. This is a free event, but space is limited.