Feeling Small

Posted by Jeffrey Milisen on Sunday, December 30, 2012 Under: Megafauna

For the most part, the ocean is a vast pit full of a fat lot of nothing.  How much nothing?  If you set sail from California on a straight path at a cruising speed of 12 mph, you might not hit land or see anything of interest for 22 days.  Underwater is a lot of the same.  When working on an open ocean aquaculture project where we dived in the middle of the ocean twice per day for months on end, most of the dives were in deep, unbroken, gin-clear blue water.  I spent hours looking at nothing bigger than a dime.  Then, maybe in one day in ten, the ocean would mysteriously explode with life so awesome in unimaginable numbers that I would suddenly feel like a small fish in a very, very big pond. Yesterday, dead-calm conditions combined with an unusual liveliness underwater to provide a special guest with such a perfect storm of awesomeness.

Among our group yesterday were professional shark wrangler Juan Oliphant and professional shark model Ocean Ramsey.  Juan and Ocean brought along their good friend Andy Brandy Casagrande who makes quite a living for himself filming professionally for Shark Week and National Geographic.  Next to this elite assembly of heavy hitters, Andrew and myself were just a couple of guys who like sharks.  With this group, you’re probably getting the idea that we didn’t just go out to document flatworms and flounders on an artificial reef. We first motored out to some offshore buoys that are known to hold a variety of sharks.  For whatever reason, the animals were especially keyed up.  We spent the next hour shooting silkies, Galapagos and even oceanic blacktip sharks as they swam among a huge school of opelu.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the water with Galapagos sharks, so most of my time was focused on the two smaller species.  The competition created an atmosphere of especially friendly animals that all wanted to nose into the camera for a close-up.  Juan and Ocean had to leave shortly after.  Had we all gone straight home at this point, everyone would be perfectly happy.  Instead, we went cruising and came across a floating pig. 
I have no idea how the final moments of this pig’s life transpired to find it bloated off the north shore of Oahu.  By the time we showed up, though, a tiger shark had recently arrived and was tentatively circling it.  Predictably, we jumped in for a peek.  At first, we looked at the shark much like it looked at us, with a healthy, heavy, helping of caution.  We’d move toward it for a shot, and it would disappear into the deep.  It would come in for a close pass and we would huddle by the boat, ready to jump out of the water if needed.  The whole situation was really quite awkward.  It wasn’t until the second tiger shark appeared that the action really started to heat up.  

The animals started getting bolder, allowing us well within arms reach.  They’d circle the pig, then swing wide to investigate us.  Every once in a while, they’d swim up and take a nervous nibble.  Amazingly, the sharks never frenzied over the carcass but instead carefully calculated every bite they took.  This went on for two hours.  A small Galapagos eventually showed up, but wisely kept its distance, chewing on the multitude of pig scraps that drifted from the scene.  I had to wash the scraps it missed out of my hair later that night. 

So we spent pretty much the whole day marinating in adrenaline and pig guts. I now know that it takes about 15 bites from two ten-foot long tiger sharks to finish off a wild pig.  I never would have guessed that I would one day find a dead, floating pig.  It was an unbelievable day.

An oceanic blacktip charging through a school of opelu.

Andrew Gray with one of the silkies.

Andy Brandy Casagrande and one of the tiger sharks.
The smaller of the two tigers.

In : Megafauna 

Tags: tiger shark silky galapagos blacktip limbatus 

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