Nobody is comfortable with what is happening. We are still all very uncertain about what scuba diving with a tiger shark actually means. The boat is seesawing as it takes hits from fairly big surf, sheets of rain are pouring into the boat, and everyone is suited up in their dive gear straining to hear the briefing. We are already out in the middle of the ocean and it seems way beyond the point of no return. The dive master has a little laminated hand drawn diagram and is yelling over the roar of the rain.
“The bottom is about 100 feet. We are going to drop down directly to that depth. Empty your BC, and take a knee along the line of coral.”
I can barely hear what he is saying, much less ask any questions. The dive master’s voice is sobering,
“If the tiger shark comes, stay calm, and do not leave the bottom for any reason, or raise your arms in the air. We stay on the bottom until it leaves”.
That means there is no contingency plan. If the tiger shark sticks around, we are stuck under a 100 feet of ocean, unable to ascend for fear of being eaten alive, while slowly consuming the little oxygen we have in our tanks. 100 feet is quite deep even for an experienced diver, and the fear induced by having a tiger shark down there can really make one go through their air quickly. All this, and none of us have ever dived together before, so nobody knows how experienced anyone else is.
The crew is offloading huge black garbage cans into the water filled with fish heads to attract the sharks, which splash like depth charges. Everyone synchs and straps, tests and retests, and gives their dive partner a last grim look in search of some sanity. We are all preparing for battle. Every one of the divers just jumps in the water, one by one, like lemmings off a cliff. I was last off the boat, and hit the water immediately with trouble. Upon descending about 20 feet my primary regulator started faltering. Every time I sucked in, it would fill with water.
I looked up at the boat, now far above me floating farther away in the current, and then down to all the divers quickly disappearing under me, and that is when I realized I was surrounded by sharks. The thought of going back to the surface, but bobbing like bait while trying to signal the captain in the storm sounded super unappealing, so I ditched my primary, freed my secondary regulator and continued my decent to the safety of the other divers.
The secondary was flooding too, but not nearly as bad, and I figured out that if I held it at a certain angle it would actually work fine. This was crucial, because now descending down to one hundred feet, there is no swimming quickly back to the surface anymore. Any accident at this point requires a five minute safety stop at around 20 feet to allow the nitrogen built up in the body to dissipate.
At the bottom, the visibility is good. There is a line made up of dead coral, and all ten divers are kneeling comfortably behind it. Two master divers who are in front of us all with the big black garbage cans from the boat, and two behind us with long metal poles, watching our backs.
Circling above the trash cans in front of us are hundreds of huge four foot long black groupers, 40 pound giant trevallies, and little three to five foot reef sharks. As the dive masters open the garbage cans, enormous yellowish ten foot nurse sharks slither along the bottom towards them with greedy little cat eyes. The diver masters are now chumming the water, throwing fish parts into the water column filled with apex predators.
A school of eight to ten foot bull sharks rush into the frenzy, dominating the feast. They are fast and shifty, constantly changing directions, and accelerating. They are built stout like rugby players, and murderously aggressive. All other species avoid them. Then, without warning, all the sharks disappear. It is unclear what is going on as the divers are still waiving a huge tuna head around, but we all breathe a collective sigh as no one got eaten.
We see the shadow before the shark. It circles in high above us. A looming giant. It descends as if on a spiral staircase and the dive master tosses a giant tuna head up into the water column, which the tiger shark swallows whole. It is a 15 foot unfathomable monster. It feels no need to rush, it surveys the area as a king, but no shark has remained to challenge it, which makes you question why you did.
It continues circling around directly in front of us, floating silently back down towards the dive masters who draw it in with a huge fish head. Once it is close enough, they hold the fish head up and away from their bodies, and as the tiger shark redirects slightly to align with it, they let go of the fish head, and gently nudge the giant after it. It then swims over our heads, and comes around for another pass.
They are bull fighting with a tiger shark. It is so heroic and you are stoked to be in the arena with them, you just wish you had a rodeo clown. Every once in a while the shark misses the fish head, and turns towards us, mouth gaping in expectation. Those are very long passes, where you are staring into the huge eyes of the shark trying to read it intentions.
Sometimes the monster shark does not redirect continuing straight at them, and the divers place the palm of their hand on its nose and shove it away from themselves. It is all done slowly and peacefully. It is as if there is an understanding of how both species are allowed to behave. It is just very unclear what happens if the shark ever decides not to keep its end of the bargain. It is the only one with vicious flesh tearing teeth.
The tiger shark keeps its end of the bargain this time, and leaves once we are out of fish heads. We ascend to about 20 feet and float in the water column for the longest five minute safety stop of our lives, constantly seeing shark fins dart around us in the distance. Then it is over, and diving with sharks and without a cage, now just seems routine, and we are buzzing from the adrenaline and ready to do it all again.
Unfortunately the underwater camera was broken on this adventure, but the Aqua-Trek dive shop gave me this footage from the Fiji shark dive the day before to give a better feeling of what it is like down there tiger shark diving.