Hunters in the shallows

I finned out to where the water depth increased to around 3 meters, still getting used to feeling of being so lightweight sans the usual scuba tank, weights and other paraphernalia. Even inhaling was vastly different, so silent through the snorkel as opposed to the usual clatter of the regulator. The early morning sun warmed my back as I floated above a prolific garden of coral.

The branched corals however looked oddly bleak, deserted, as if the myriad inhabitants knew that something was afoot. After peering into the blue distance for awhile without any reward, I took a quick skin dive down and as I skimmed over the coral, it was there. One minute what was an empty blue space was suddenly occupied by the streamlined, gun-metal grey of the world’s best adapted predator. Like a wraith it had appeared out of the blue, a Black-Tip shark. Unfortunately the commotion I caused with my dive scared it off and it retreated as quickly as it had turned up.

Chastened by my lesson in patience, I came back up to the surface and hung there hoping I hadn’t scared off the shark. The coral lay silent once more while the snorkel hummed as I breathed in and out, the blue water still empty.

Suddenly, in between one snorkel breath and the other….they were everywhere. The pack had arrived.
Images courtesy of Dharshana Jayawardena (Dive Sri Lanka)
The sharks weaved sinuously through the water; initially two of them right in front of me caught my attention. A movement out of the corner of my eye, another shark to the left skimmed over the reef while more swam in the distance, shadows in the blue yonder. The inhabitants of the coral reef had been in hiding for a very good reason. The one thing that came to mind as the sharks swam, soaring over the coral, was purpose. They looked to be in hunting mode, effortlessly gliding through the water.
Images courtesy of Dharshana Jayawardena (Dive Sri Lanka)

Some of the sharks were incongruously followed by the bright yellow and black Golden Trevalley, shivering their fins at high speed in order to keep up with their chosen host. I watched as one Trevalley take a break down to the reef to scoop up some invisible morsel. You could almost hear it cursing to itself as it came up off the reef in a flurry almost having missed its shark, which obliviously swam on.
Images courtesy of Dharshana Jayawardena (Dive Sri Lanka) 

An indescribable feeling of awe overcame me as the shark pack swam around me, the perfect predator, a pinnacle of evolutionary magnificence that has not changed for millennia.

Images courtesy of Dharshana Jayawardena (Dive Sri Lanka)

I also felt hugely privileged. This was a sight that not many people will see. Overfishing has depleted shark populations in Sri Lanka hugely. The fishing both for consumption and more insidiously for the fin export market in China has reduced these magnificent creatures to a fraction of their original abundance. A similar campaign against leopards would have raised the ire of conservationists and the public in multitudes. Unfortunately the misunderstood nature of the shark and our lack of understanding of the ocean have led to the mass murder of sharks and the loss of one of the most magnificent animals in the seas surrounding us.

Say NO to Shark Finning!


Dilsiri Welikala said...

Saw em last weekend! First time you see them you get a bit freaked out, but then you realize, black tips :)

Dev Wijewardane said...

Interesting post as usual. Have you ever thought of getting an underwater housing?? It's crossed my mind more than a few times...

Gallicissa said...

Nice post!
I failed to persuade the owner of 88 to take off the Shark Fin soup off their menu. I haven't given up though.

PP said...

maybe the best way to persuade him is to boycott his establishment and make sure he knows why? if enough people do it, i'm sure the message will get across. just a thought =)

Offthebeatentrack said...

@Dil - yeah it is a bit freaky at first but then you realize they are more scared of you then you are of them!

@Dev - It is on the purchase plans for August!:)

Galicissa & PP - yeah we hope to make more of a fuss about this kind of thing soon with the Scuba club. The issue is the huge export market.