Thursday, September 15, 2011
IN THE SHADOW OF THE BULL!
Walking along a stretch of beach without my snorkel gear or trunks on I find myself almost alone. As usual when I do these treks there is a trash gathering bag in hand. And as usual the bag is full and heavy. Now and then a tourist wanders past. But I am roaming more desolate stretches of beach. An older couple passes me reminiscing about the good times. I pass a lone fisherman with 2 white plastic tubes sunken into the pack sand to hold his fishing rods as he sits watching them in a folding chair. A tall woman and a heavy elderly man sit under an umbrella in lounge chairs while a gawky pair of kids play in the sand near the breakers. They are building a sand structure of some sort and trying to channel waves into a trough to fill a would be moat. Farther down a pair of very attractive bikini babes in their mid to late twenties are getting shell hunting tips from a young teenage boy who takes every opportunity he can to study the women from behind when they bend over to grab or wash shells in the shallow water. Seeing is believing I suppose. An older man with a pipe in his mouth is reading a novel in a lawn chair and drinking a lot of beers. At least he has a trash bag handy, though half full. The waves pick up as the wind and surf shift a bit in intensity. And there in the shallows is a shadow. At first it is just a murky shadow that looms nondescript almost on the edge of my awareness. But as a shark advocate and biologist I am aware of this shadow. I have trained myself to notice shadows that seem like nothing more than wave crests to most eyes. The shadow follows me as I move. Slowing and stopping when I stop. But it is not a shadow of my making. The rough chop churns the water enough that it is some time before I can make out the form with any clarity. It is a fish. A big fish indeed. A shark. That much is quite obvious after a short while. But the shape is nondescript with no tell tale markers at first. It is also staying just a short ways off as if it is teasing me. It is like the animal seems to understand the limits of my vision and chooses to keep just beyond the periphery of my ability to make out the form. My impulse is to enter the water and get a closer look. It is a habit and urge that is well ingrained into me. Go forth and study Erik! Find answers. Have a closer look. But inside of me there was a second voice. One that warned me, be cautious. Be aware of what it is before you go out there or get too close. Something seemed amiss or just a little bit "off" in this scene. I elected to err to the side of caution. What is the good of having "warning" feelings if you are going to ignore them right? I continued to walk along the beach. The shadow continued to follow me. It stopped when I stopped and moved when I moved. Sometimes it moved away and seemed to disappear. But then it would reappear only a short distance further up. My interesting and interested shadow. I wondered what the draw was? What had attracted this mysterious lurker to me? Hard to say. My shorts were blue jean/denim shorts. My top was a black shirt. A tank top in fact. I had a black cap on my head. It could not have been the colours. Maybe it was my vibe? ( Hey anything is possible ). Maybe the fish had some sort of feeling or sense of my love of sharks. Maybe I am getting fat and don't know it? Could I have been mistaken for a juicy sea lion? Nahhhhhhhhhh,... I honestly do not know what it was? For all that I know it could have been the bag of trash and that a diver had fed it before weaing black and blue gear. Anything is possible. I watched as a man walked past in the opposite direction. No switch on behalf of my shadow. I guess green shorts and a white and red top was not its thing. Great, a shark with discriminating tastes in humans. Whatever the case was it had a thing for me and continued down the beach to follow me as I walked and pause where I stopped. It was interesting to say the least. Suddenly the water depth and clarity changed. I could now see my shadow for the first time. An 8-9 foot bull shark loomed just right there. It grabbed my attention and focus. Beefy and respectable looking animals like this are generally out farther. I wondered about it? What was it's story? The saga of a shark cruising through the shallows on a warm day in broad daylight. It did not seem to be in need of a meal, though it is hard to say with bulls. They all look stocky and well fed. It could have been sick or disoriented, although it was swimming just fine. Had it eaten something laced with dispersant from BP's oncoming soup of death a bit farther up the coast? I even had a funny thought about the shark. I wondered ( allowing the silly and over sun-exposed side of my mind perhaps to goof around ) if this shark recognized me? Could it tell that this was a shark friend? Had my lemon and nurse shark pals spread the word? "That guy over there likes sharks! He has on rare occasion even fed us! Go check him out!" A funny if whimsical thought about the big bull shark. It kept following me for another 70 yards or so before moving off into deeper waters. I did not go and visit it any further than the waters edge. Perhaps it was disappointed? I doubt that. In all seriousness I could not say what had drawn it to shadow me for a while along the beach edge? I will never know for sure. But it sure was a magnificent looking animal for the brief time that I was afforded a closer view. This morning there was no trace of the wayward bull. No great majestic shadow that followed my motion like a dog on the other side of a fence. I swam with 2 nurse sharks and a very cute little bonnethead shark that was maybe 2 - 2.5 feet long at the very most. It was on the move and did not stay around for very long. The water was clear and warm with a slight cooler upwelling from the shelf a short ways out. Perhaps out there, the bull shark was now cruising and hunting fish. And just maybe it had a reflection of it's adventure in the shallows with a blue and black shadow from the overworld above it's own? - Erik