Swimming with Sharks
It’s an hour after sunset and we’re standing on the back of a boat, staring down into the black waters of the Indian Ocean, wondering what lurks beneath the surface. Except that we know what’s lurking beneath the surface. Because this is Maya Thila in the Maldives, and what we’re going to find down there are sharks. Lots of sharks. Hunting.
Scuba diving takes you into an alien world, with easy movement in three dimensions, communication restricted to hand signals and flora and fauna quite unlike anything you’ll encounter on the surface. On night dives this becomes even more so, as that’s when all the really weird stuff comes out. Worms, slugs, crustaceans, feather stars, anenomes. Tonight though, we’re here to see the resident population of white tips out looking for their dinner. On earlier dives, we’ve seen plenty of sharks. During the day, they tend to be fairly sedentary, snoozing in the sand, or cruising slowly past the reef. At night, it’s all change, and even with these small reef sharks (classified in our fish book as “usually docile”), you can see just why they’re apex predators. As we circle the reef, there are sharks everywhere, flashing out of the gloom and through our torchlight, darting in and out of caves in search of their prey.
It’s a wonderful opportunity to see “Nature red in tooth and claw” close up. Where else could one be within touching distance of an animal that sits at the top of the food chain (other than humans of course) and watch as they demonstrate their rightful place at the head of that chain?
And contrary to all those years of bad press, they’re really not interested in us. Not that the adrenalin isn’t flowing. It’s like being immersed in an episode of the Blue Planet, and at times there’s almost too much to take in. Not only are there hunting sharks, but moray eels, lionfish and snapper are joining in the fray, making the most of the light from our torches to track and target.
After what seems like ten minutes, but is closer to an hour, the dive is done and it’s time to make our way up the mooring line. We break the surface and Jacques Cousteau’s Silent World is replaced by a hubbub of excited voices as buddy pairs dry off, sip hot tea and swap tales of the deep.
Editorial Note: This is a piece that I wrote as an entry for the Guardian’s Travel Writing Competition in 2013 — 500 words on “wildlife”. It didn’t win, but I didn’t want it to go to waste! I also wrote about an encounter with mantas.