underwater, with Susan in scuba, plus an inserted hammerhead

Mad in Pursuit Notebook

Shark Week! (Deep Sea Nostalgia)

26 July 2023.

When I started hanging out with Z in the late ‘70s, he came with a portfolio of derring-do, including several near-death adventures.

Take that time he was chased by a shark.

His cool art-collector friends loved telling me this story, the one where Z was off spearfishing, while they relaxed on a boat. This was in Grand Cayman. Z had meandered off. But suddenly he was “swimming on water” back to the boat, the unmistakable dorsal fin of a shark following him. They would tell me this story with gales of laughter. Z finally scrambled up the ladder onto the boat, still carrying his net bag full of bloody speared fish. Dinner was saved, haha!

Subscribe to get my newsletterI was too infatuated with Z to probe for details. I wanted to be part of the adventure.

Fast forward to 1983. I had my scuba-diving certification. Z and I went on vacation. Grand Cayman, again. By this time, 51-year-old Z had given up spearfishing for underwater photography. He’d invested in a Nikon SLR with an ungainly Ikelite waterproof housing.

On August 24 (yes, I found Z’s dive log) we went on a group dive to Tarpon Alley off the North Wall.The main attraction, at sixty feet under, were schools of tarpon, man-sized game fish that gleamed silver like the chrome bumper of a vintage Buick. Among the tarpon were a few stingrays, six-foot wide platters of wavy cartilage with toxic barbed tails

I was the only diver without a camera.

Once I’d seen enough tarpon, I drifted away from the group, gazing off into the blue distance.

Another creature was circling the group of divers. My eyes focused. A shark. A great big shark. Far enough away that I couldn’t make out what exactly he had in his mouth to make it look so wide.

You have to understand that the underwater world of the scuba diver is a dreamscape. Silent, except for the sound of your own breathing. Small fish dart. Large fish, large humans glide. Distance is defined in shades of blue.

I thought the others needed to see the shark, but everyone had their cameras focused on the tarpon. My gestures were ineffective. Our half-hour at depth was over. Time to surface.

I gave my shark one last glance.

Back in our room, I pulled out the library of reference books that Z had hauled along on the trip. In seconds, I found it. There was nothing distorting my shark’s mouth. It was a hammerhead!

“It was a hammerhead!” I said to Z. “Twelve to eighteen feet long! And its favorite food is stingrays!”

Z was impressed. He duly noted it in his dive log.

I smiled. I would never have Z’s portfolio of adventures, but I’d earned a merit badge. “Swimming with shark,” check.

A few months ago, we subscribed to the Disney+ channel and watched all the shark shows, attack after bloody attack. The patina of science on a rage against the beast.

But here’s my experience: the “beasts” are just living their lives. Humans create the dramas, projecting our own anxieties and terrors onto strange creatures in unfamiliar environments. Or we churn up the waters and make a nuisance of ourselves. Z was stupid not to have dropped his fish catch for his shark. All his shark wanted was his lunch. 

But hey, it’s shark week! What do you think? Is our preoccupation with sharks a little nutty? Or are you watching “Jaws” for the umpteenth time? Let me know!


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Books from Mad in Pursuit and Susan Barrett Price: KITTY'S PEOPLE: the Irish Family Saga about the Rise of a Generous Woman (2022)| HEADLONG: Over the Edge in Pakistan and China (2018) | THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) | TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) | PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008). Available at Amazon.