For as long as I can remember, I have been enthralled with sharks. There is something about their sleek shapes darting nimbly through the water that draws my attention, triggering both fear and fascination. Perhaps that explains why for one week every year for the last 25 years, the world hones in on this colossal animal, this predator of predators, during what has become known as Shark Week.
I don’t know about you, but it captivates me to watch men and women bobbing at the bottom of the ocean floor encircled by these dangerous creatures – watching, studying, even hand-feeding them.
While I’ve never had my limbs chomped on by a Great White, my first experience with a shark was on a Florida vacation more than 10 years ago. As I waded waist-deep in the ocean, a baby shark (which sounds cute, but trust me, it’s not!) swam right past my legs, disappearing into the waves. If you are wondering if I got out of the water, the answer is, “Yes, yes I did.” Flown out of the water might be a more accurate depiction of how quickly I evacuated the ocean!
Fast-forward a few years to my honeymoon in Cancun, where my wife and I piloted a two-person boat on what was billed a “Jungle Tour”. The tour guides stopped us near a beach, where we plunked into deep water to chase multi-colored fish with cheap snorkels.
As I swam after the fish, I followed one over to where a single line of rope floated in the water near a coral reef. It was a striking, unforgettable image. There’s where all the fish are going, I thought. I drifted by the rope for a few minutes before it dawned on me that there was nothing but that rope separating me from the rest of the ocean. I’m no shark expert, but I’m pretty sure a few intertwined threads don’t deter them, especially when there is a dozen sun-tanned tourists milling about in their hunting ground.
Although I didn’t see any sharks that day in Cancun (thank God!), the vulnerable feeling I felt down there in the water has stayed with me. That feeling of powerlessness, of not knowing, is part of why I love Shark Week.
During this week, I watch brave people risk their lives to study these immense creatures. I see shark tests and shark bites, sharks wriggling along the ocean floor and sharks launching themselves above the surface of the water, their elongated bodies shimmering in the sunlight as if encased in jewels.
I think it’s the intensity I like the most: the vulnerability of humans engaging so much power and danger, the threat of injury and death so imminent. There’s even a paranormal element where the sharks almost seem imbued with mythical ability to ride the rippling shadows of the water. As someone who writes novels about the same kinds of feelings, the visceral experience of watching these shark specials is virtually unparalleled.
Shark Week presents us with real-life stories and real-life heroes, both shark and human. It is a week to remind us that we share this earth, that there is real magic and wonder in the world and that there is still ample reason to celebrate each day of this remarkable life.