WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE SMACKED BY FIGHT­ING SHARKS

Scuba Diving - - Front Page - BY AMANDA CAST L EMAN

Two dozen sharks swirl in as the crew low­ers a ball of frozen fish chunks. Yap’s warm wa­ters blur its edges, trig­ger­ing flares of blood, which look green­ish-black 40 feet down.

With cur­rent kick­ing, the bait — and us divers — re­main teth­ered. I bob on my reef hook’s 6-foot cord like a bal­loon.

North­west Yap at­tracts reef sharks. Lean and scarred, they scythe to­ward the chum­si­cle. I’ve never seen sharks this beat up. They look like they’ve been rum­bling with the Jets daily — in a knife-fight way, not a dance-bat­tle one.

Sure enough, they start squab­bling. Grays swim in fig­ure-eight pat­terns, snouts up. Some charge each other. For one par­tic­u­lar pair, when nei­ther backs down, the teeth come out.

The two sharks lock to­gether, thrash­ing. Time slows as they tum­ble to­ward me. I dart side­ways, but the cur­rent straight­ens the reef hook’s line, snap­ping me back into their path. I ex­hale and cower over the coral. Then ... wham!

My head snaps back as the sharks smack into my face: a knot of writhing, bit­ing fury. The wa­ter soft­ens the blow, so it feels like get­ting socked in a pil­low fight — ex­cept for the fear fac­tor. What if the sharks turn on me? I’m grate­ful when they stay fo­cused on each other.

I later learn baited grays tend to en­ter a fren­zied-mob feed­ing pat­tern. Why are we in­cit­ing wild crea­tures to sav­age each other? I vow to avoid shark dives.

But then I hear of the care­fully chore­ographed dives in Beqa, Fiji, where op­er­a­tors chum sev­eral ar­eas so sharks don’t have to com­pete. In­stead, they float around, grab­bing food al­most lazily. Ex­cess chum falls to the ocean floor, en­cour­ag­ing coral for­ma­tions.

So maybe these dives can be done right. But next time, I’m keep­ing my nose out of it.

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