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An old “friend” returns? Dec 24

Back in 2002, I was teaching a class at Minerva Ledge with 3 Open Water students.

Back then, there used to be a lot more sharks on this reef and the question wasnt whether we’d see any sharks, but how many and which species. As with most beginners, my students had some concerns about being in the water with sharks, and I gave them my usual spiel: sharks arent dangerous, we are not normal prey, we are too big for most sharks, etc. etc.

We get in the water, and sure enough, we see a white tip cruise by. And then a black tip some time later. By now, my students are converted – they are very excited about the sharks and no longer scared. Towards the end of the dive, yet another white tip goes by – and a few seconds later, one of my students points to the right into the blue and signals “shark.”

I look, expecting to see a white tip and sure enough, there is one swimming towards us. I nod and return to scanning the front, as I am hoping to get a manta today.

Then a small voice pipes in my head, saying “wait a minute – wrong proportions…” I look again, and the shark is coming toward us. Directly towards us. Fins down. Which is an aggressive territorial display.

“Wait a minute,” I remember thinking, “where does a white tip get off being aggressive to three divers”?

Then the initial voice in my head pipes up again “hey… WRONG proportions. Hellooo!”

Right – when looked more closely, this shark just seemed to be a lot bulkier. And not only that, it was a lot bigger. And at that moment, it turned and showed us its size – it was a 4m+ bullshark! Yes, I know bullsharks don’t get bigger than 3m or so – but this was 4m+ and I will stake my diving reputation on it (heck, most people who’ve seen it put it at 5m+, but that is a bit exaggerated). And my divers and I had just been told off in no uncertain terms by Big Guy that we were in his territory. ¬†Rather than upset him, we turned around and head back in towards the reef, and that was all we saw of him on this dive.

Over the next few years, Bob the Bullshark would make a reappearance a couple of times each season. Each time, it was at the same site and the same deal: comes straight in, fins down, in a territorial display, turning away a good 10m or so away. ¬†We always appreciated the polite warning and would make sure we didn’t hang around for a second pass (and certainly not the third pass, which might involve a “smile”).

And each sighting was absolutely, gloriously epic – there are few things in this world as graceful as an enormous, powerful shark with rippling muscles and gliding by faster than anyone can swim with the merest flick of its tail. It was humbling and it was moving – we were witnessing one of nature’s 2 perfect creations in its element (the other being the crocodile) – and I mean “perfect creation” literally: the shark has not changed or evolved over 350 million years. It is perfect and cannot be improved upon.

The last 3+ seasons, Bob has been AWOL. We put it down to him falling a victim to the local shark fishermen (thanks to the demand for turning this amazingly beautiful animal into soup).

However, a couple of days ago, two of our divers and one of our DMs saw a big shark at a site that is about 250m away from Bob’s old stomping grounds. Initially, we were not sure whether it was a grey reef shark (which has been sighted here occasionally) or a bullshark (which has never been sighted here). Speaking to the divers and comparing notes on size, shape, etc., I am pretty confident it was a big bullshark.

Could Bob be back? I for one certainly hope so – if there ever was a Christmas present that would thrill me beyond belief, this would be it. And at the risk of anthropomorphizing too much, I do wonder if somewhere in that predator mind of his, Bob remembers us?

Welcome back, Bob – we missed you!

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