Shark Bait

I have always been afraid of sharks.

Though after all these years on the island, I know that I should be used to seeing them in the water occasionally. I’ve also been told time and time again that they are not going to eat me if I don’t get too close (and perhaps they won’t even if I do get too close). But all of the reassurances people have tried to provide me with have never helped. The fear is deeply rooted and unwilling to budge for logic alone.

About 100 feet out from our beach, we have a wonderful reef where we occasionally go snorkeling. Parrotfish, squirrelfish, tang, lionfish, and sergeant majors surround the coral heads in undulating schools. It is always with a kind of wonder that we approach this natural aquarium.

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Most of the time, we’re able to hover over the reef for hours, observing all the activity in awe without the slightest disturbance. An occasional barracuda may pop up in the periphery but as long as they don’t get too curious, I can deal with them.

Recently, I was enjoying a leisurely snorkel with my brother and his wife. It was a gorgeous day and I felt at peace. And then a shark appeared.

Sleek, dark, and way too big for my taste, he closed in on the reef. True to form, I panicked, hurling myself towards the beach like an extra in Jaws. I swear I could feel him right behind me the entire time with his mouth gaping open, ready for a human snack. I swam as fast as I could, the adrenaline coursing through me and causing me to keep flailing in terror even after I reached the safety of the shore. I am certain that I looked like a cartoon character desperately crawling at the sand.

Once I actually looked back out at the reef, I could see that the shark must have stayed there, eyeing the smaller fish instead of choosing to chase me. My snorkel companions were almost drowning from laughing so hard. “It’s only a nurse shark,” my brother yelled, “and they can’t bite you!”

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Easy for him to say.

I decided to educate myself and looked up nurse sharks on Wikipedia. While I discovered that, yes, they don’t normally bite humans, that doesn’t mean that they are entirely harmless. Due to their poor eyesight, it is a possibility that they could confuse your body with that of a stingray or a lobster. I was determined not to be a victim of this sort of mistaken identity.

But the very next day, fear and all, I was back out on the reef. I couldn’t resist. The nurse shark – which by this time I had named Dolores because I simply can’t think of a nurse shark as a male – was still there. I found her lying on the bottom, slightly covered in sand. I decided to hover several feet away, still not convinced of the absolute safety of the situation. I kept the shore well within reach and after a few minutes, Dolores stirred. I read that nurse sharks hunt in the night and sleep during the day – Please don’t wake up and hunt me! I thought.

Not wanting to disturb her, I slowly back-paddled towards the beach. But rather than continue her slumber, Dolores seemed to find this interesting. She came to life and swam in my direction. I moved as calmly as I could, trying not to overreact, and reached the shallow waters. But instead of racing out this time, I just stood there in the water up to my knees.

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She stopped and seemed to be waiting for something. Not sure what to do, I fussed up a little sand cloud with my feet and sent it out towards her. She sort of looked at it – if sharks can be said to contemplate something – and slowly swam into the cloud.

Feeling braver than ever, I started walking down the beach, still in knee-high water. I shuffled a little with each step to stir up more sand, and Dolores promptly followed.

We walked like that, just the two of us, for about half an hour, until I finally turned and ran up to my house to alert my husband. Waking him from his afternoon nap, I eagerly recounted my adventure.

“She followed me home!” I told him.

“Can I keep her?”

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Jacque Campaigne

About Jacque Campaigne

Jacque always thought she was going to end up in the Caribbean. She saw herself as an aging eccentric with billowing muumuus, impatiently dictating children's books into a portable tape recorder (she didn't know about Siri when this vision took form) while striding down a deserted beach. Several years later, sans muumuu but still somewhat impatient, she walks the beach while listening to books and confines the writing to her porch and her Apple Air.

It took her some time to get to the Caribbean. Many years were spent working as a journalist in Stockholm, Sweden, and then as a real estate broker in Florida. Kids grew up, went to college, got married, and moved away. By 1999, she and her husband bought a big piece of an empty beach on Cat Island. What was originally going to be a weekend gathering spot for their two sons and extended family quickly became the only place where she wanted to live.

An adjustment here, another there, and the weekend cottage became her permanent home. Now she blogs about her island and the food she cooks everyday.

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7 thoughts on “Shark Bait

  1. Enjoyed your tale of “The Shark Encounter”. I too felt terrified of sharks. Our daughter is a certified Deep Water Diver and my greatest fear for her is a shark attack. I took my first open water snorkel dive this year. I encountered not one but two sharks that day. A nurse shark and a reef shark. Miraculously, I did not panic, I remained calm and relished the surreal time spent in their presence. Do I feel like my shark phobia is cured, NO, but i am definitely, less fearful. Looking forward to another encounter of shark.

  2. I can understand that, even though I grew up in Florida and lived in the water. I now live on the beach and don’t swim or snorkel or dive. Swim on occassion, but am terrified of sharks. I have a friend that has dived all over the world with sharks and has tried educating people about them. Hope to learn to comquer that fear. Hopefully, I am going to have more time now and get out there and enjoy my time in the sun.

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