PostHeaderIcon Nature’s Last Paradise

Following a link on Drudge about a bride watching her new husband being killed by a shark, I was surprised to find it happened in the Seychelles Islands. While tragic, to say the least, I was amused to read the spin of the Seychelles authorities, saying sharks were rare and that the most common species there was the harmless plankton eating whale shark. I just happen to know better.

I lived in the Seychelles as a young man for two years back in ’67/’68, while working on an American satellite tracking station once located there on Mahe. We called it “Nature’s Last Paradise,” because there was no airport and thus no tourist trade. It was not at all uncommon to be the only human on a mile long pure white sand beach. Diving was my prime hobby and I was as close as it got to a dive shop on the island, as I owned the only air compressor for filling SCUBA tanks, except for the time Jacques Cousteau visited us with the M/V Calypso. Funny… I haven’t thought about that episode, which seemed rather significant at the time, in many years…

Anyway, I have logged countless hours underwater in the Seychelles, and one thing one must get used to diving there, is that there are a LOT of sharks. Nurse sharks are ubiquitous around the reefs. They are not particularly aggressive, and unless spearfishing, one learns to pretty much ignore them. They will try to steal a speared fish from a diver, however, so we learned to quickly surface and put our catch in a boat, rather than trailing bleeding fish behind us on a stringer. Almost as common were young tiger sharks, in the 4′ to 6′ range. These were aggressive, and it was best not to spearfish at all when they were around. Still young and immortal, we would still dive with them; but I never trusted them, and kept one eye on them.

Another frequently sighted species was the unsettlingly evil looking hammerhead of all sizes. My most frightening experience, was with a 10′ to 12′ specimen that excitedly followed me all the way into waist deep water, as I crawled along the bottom from the reef, blowing confusing air bubbles at it. Ugly critter, that, and they have been known to attack a boat propeller, like it was a fishing spinner lure. I once watched one that size from my boat, working a school of bait fish on the surface. It was unbelievably fast and agile for its size. So were the tiger sharks. They are actually a pelagic species, who were a menace while deep sea fishing.

Frequently, while reeling in a yellowfin tuna, the fight would suddenly end, and one would find only a fish head on the hook, being followed by a school of 20 or 30 6′ to 8′ tiger sharks. The locals liked to eat this species, so we would bait our hooks and catch a couple for them. After one guy got bit on the leg, we learned never to bring one aboard before severing its spinal cord behind the head. After we had all we wanted, the next one we caught, we would slice open in a few places and release it to its cannibalistic buddies.

The feeding frenzy that ensued was as fascinating as it was unsettling. The other sharks would start taking great chunks out of the wounded one with abandon. Unfortunately, the quicker ones would get in the way, and be accidentally bitten by others meaning to attack the cripple. This was repeated in a boiling red froth, which would usually mortally wound 8 or 10 of these frightful eating machines, before they suddenly just stopped and swam lazily away, as the carcasses began sinking to the crabs. I could understand the bloody trigger that started the frenzy; but I could never figure out what signal caused their herd mentality to stop so suddenly, with profusely bleeding victims still thrashing about.

Oh, and the whale sharks? While we would spot one slowly cruising the surface on a rare occasion, while trolling far offshore, in all the time I spent diving there, I only ever encountered one near shore. But, don’t tell the tourists any of this; it might be bad for their economy. 😉 ◄Dave►

One Response to “Nature’s Last Paradise”

  • Troy says:

    Dave, you have lived a fascinating life! For my part, I never cared much for salt water. Too many things there that might find me tasty.

    As a teenager, we did engage in the cruel sport of catching garfish, cutting them, then tossing them back for their buddies to eat. It is quite fun — and there is no shortage of garfish in Arkansas.

    Your experiences all over the world have surely given you a unique perspective — much more so than say a serviceman because you were actually a part of the local society. It is also refreshing to read something that does not involve anyone named Obama.

    Thanks,
    Troy

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