Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tiger Beach - and an end in sight, unfortunately.

It almost hurts to state that. But, yes, I have decided that this year's November back-to-back trips to that literally breathtaking place will be my last shark dives. 

"My last shark dives"... Sounds awful to me, kind of like a terminal disease... Well, at least I can say, not proudly but anecdotally, that I have been diving on one breath of air for sixty years which probably makes me one of the oldest free-diving farts in the world. 

Sure, now that old age - hey, I am 73!! - and the aftereffects of my stomach cancer five years ago are taking their tolls, I could start switching to diving with Scuba tanks. But that would be like betraying my life-long tenet that free-diving is the only way to get closer to, and feel homier in, that incomparably magic of the blue world of silence.... 

I am thankful that I have had the incredible privilege to dive and interact with the most gracious, gentle, intelligent, and sensitive sharks during the last eight years: The tiger sharks, along with the great white sharks probably the most misunderstood and vilified "requiem" sharks.

I cannot express how excited I am knowing that I will be seeing "Emma" or "Smiley" once again, and, frankly, at the same time I don't know yet how I will cope bidding them and the other striped girls good-bye for good... All I know is that I will sorely miss them.

The trips I am on, as always aboard the legendary Dolphin Dream, spacious and comfy, are not fully booked yet, there are still a few spots open but experience has shown that those vacancies won't last long.

Thus, if someone reading this should feel the irresistible urge to accompany me to celebrate life, the ocean, and those magnificent creatures, please contact the arranger of the trips, my good old pal Dom Macan, a truly passionate diver, both cosmopolitan and British to the core.

To conclude this message fittingly, here is a moody portrait of "Smiley", the new celebrity of Tiger Beach. 

Click to enlarge

I have selected this image as it transmits  -  as 'eloquently' as a photograph can  -  the bond I would like to believe she and I have established interacting with each other, lovingly and respectfully. Just look at the way she looked at me when I took her picture - doesn't it say it all? 

And when I look at the image myself - will I, indeed, could I REALLY stick to my decision to call tiger shark diving quits?.....  :-) 

Sharks: To touch or not to touch them - that is not a question for Mike Neumann.

Mike Neumann will not compromise. Divers who touch sharks, worse: ride them, are, in his opinion, submarine perverts. He calls them 'Shark Molesters'. 

I have a slightly different opinion. I say: If you have a lot of experience diving with sharks, have learned to understand their distinctive body language, and, most importantly, if you love and respect these animals, actually all animals, then I believe it's OK to touch, even caress sharks.

Nurse Shark love. These sharks are very gentle if you treat them gently.
Photograph by Karin Leander (Bahamas, 2004)
Click to enlarge 

Riding them is a different story. Sharks are not horses or bulls, and even former rodeo riders should not manipulate sharks abusively, like turning them upside down or jam Go-Pro cameras on a wand into their mouths (I have seen such totally unacceptable behavior during my last tiger shark trip).

Further down is a brillant article wherein Mike puts forward his thoughts about the subject. Not only do I hold him in the highest esteem for his convincing arguments, but I really believe that his way of introducing his underwater guests to sharks as a responsible and sensible diving operator should become standard protocol in the shark diving industry. 

I am sure that after having read the interview with Mike you will agree with me that this is how shark operators should run their businesses - always allowing certain exceptions,  of course...... otherwise, how would I be able to go back to where I could caress my beloved striped girls again?.... :-)

Contrary to their bad press, tiger sharks can be as gentle as nurse sharks - if you know how to communicate with them.
Photograph by Felix Leander (Aliwal Shoal, 2008)
Click to enlarge