June 16, 2011
Close encounters of the Aquatic Kind
"Sharks!!" I gasped as I lowered my face into the clear water.
Just ahead of our speeding dinghy were (three, make that four, five, seven!, was that two more?) black tipped sharks, all milling about, minding there own business, seemingly unaware that five hapless swimmers were being swept into them in a rapidly moving stream.
"Lift your foot!" I sputtered at Lauren as we passed the first little shark and nearly booted it in the head. We both tried to shift and contort to avoid them—all the while overcome with near-hysterical giggles as the bewildered sharks tried to sort out just what was happening as we blew through the centre of their school.
Drift diving is like being on a poorly-maintained conveyor belt in the world's coolest interactive aquarium. At times you blast past colourful corals and through schools of fish. While other times you loaf along (or perhaps stop then go backwards) and have time to look at everything (and time for everything to check you out) before the current catches you again.
Motupuapua pass at Tahanea has become our favourite snorkel—on our first dive we saw a giant manta ray, white tipped and black tipped reef sharks. On subsequent dives we added a nurse shark and gray reef sharks to our 'sharks seen' list and noted that unless the sharks were particularly large and excessively interested in us, or we were about to inadvertently run one (or several) down we have become more complacent about swimming with the fascinating creatures than we could ever have imagined.
The current eased off on our snorkel as the pass widened out and we slowed down. As we were exploring, Lauren-boy pointed out a giant manta ray cruising by. A few minutes later it returned with two other rays. Soon we had five rays circling us—swimming just out of reach, but seemingly as intrigued by us as we were them. We waved the WGD dinghy over and learned they too had seen the rays and we pulled the two dinghies together and let the rays come to us. One after another they approached and tentative touches were exchanged.
Maia and one giant ray seemed almost to accidentally swim into each and when Maia reached out with her hand the ray flapped its big wing—either slapping or high-fiving her. Amazingly having a huge aquatic creature with a 10 foot wing span smack her didn't concern Maia at all—and she continued to happily swim with the rays, watching as they glided towards her, huge mouths open wide to catch plankton (and big enough to slurp her up).
"That was nice." Maia said as she climbed out of the water. As though swimming with rays, and sharks, and parrot fish and butterfly fish were an everyday thing in an ordinary childhood.
*We'll head for Tahiti sometime next week and will post pictures then. Feel free to leave comments, we won't see them for a bit but really enjoy them.
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