Shark Encounter

Friday, April 13, 2018

What do you do when you're driving along in one of our National Parks and you see a line of cars parked along the side of the road? You stop your car to see what they're looking at, right?

So today I'm walking on a path along the shore in Fakarava (an atoll about 145 miles NE of Tahiti) and I see a group of people standing near the water. Right in front of them an occasional dorsal fin surfaces, then disappears into the shallow water. I immediately say to myself, "dolphins," but as I draw nearer the people are whispering, "sharks."

Sure enough, a local man has lured a family of 5 reef sharks toward the shore, feeding them cut-up bits of some nameless (to me at least) white fish. He is standing knee deep in the water and petting the sharks as they feed and thrash about him. "They won't bite," he tells me in French and they are clearly not terribly hungry as, by now at least, he has to coax them to eat. I wade in next to him and ask, "Moi aussie?" indicating my desire to pet them. He says, "Sure," in English.

shark.jpg

What a thrill. This is evidently not the first time he has done this so I ask him, in French, "For the tourists?" But he indicates, "No." I am aware that only an occasional cruise ship comes to these shores so I believe him, and besides, he doesn't ask for money for this marvelous display. He does it for himself--a sort of shark whisperer. 

The big one he has named, Marcello, but the four smaller ones are nameless. Marcello is about a foot wide at the mouth and about 8 feet long. His color is greenish-brown. His back feels like medium sandpaper but the fins are smooth.

I petted one of the smaller ones as well before this lovely group of satiated sharks drifted away.

Wow.