Claudia & the Sharks Pt 2

This is the concluding part of my interview with Claudia about her experiences with sharks. If you missed it, catch up on Part 1 here.


Claudia: When I worked in the Maldives as a diving instructor, I observed that the sharks go for movement, together with colours.

My boss there would say to me, ‘You’re such a dickhead. Everybody knows that sharks are colour-blind.’

I told him, ‘I don’t think so. I had several occasions when people had these fluorescent yellow fins. There was something attractive about the colour, together with the movement of these fins. I saw sharks respond. They came straight up, out of the deep, out of nowhere and stopped about half a metre in front of the fins’.

That was a high-speed thing. It did not happen with any other colour. I was sure, ‘They can see it. They can make a distinction between the different colours the divers have.’

‘I’m not sure how they see the colours,’ I said. ‘But they can make a distinction.’

He said, ‘Oh, yeah. What are you dreaming about in the night?’

Women taking yellow-finned tuna to market in Madagascar. Photo by  Bluwoad .

Women taking yellow-finned tuna to market in Madagascar. Photo by Bluwoad.

I was very fond of him. But he was this type of older guy who’s been there, done that, seen it all.

He was easily thirty years older than me and he probably thought, ‘Yeah, you bloody chick. What are you? Why do think you know about these things?’

Nel: You were saying that there was an incident one time in the group you took out to see the hammerhead sharks?

C: Our group was going up slowly towards the safety stop. We had a rule: no one goes below myself or my dive-master colleague. So if you see my fins in front of your face you come up. You’re in the wrong place.

This day we were on ten metres, going up slowly. I saw a shark coming up from the bottom. It had an unusual shape that you never saw in those waters. It came from the depths of the ocean. I could see it had this unusual shape. For a moment I thought, ‘My heart’s gonna stop.’ It was a single shark, a lone swimmer. It swam right through the middle of the group, so close it touched one of the divers on the leg. I was so relieved when it swam away.

I got everyone safely to the boat. I was the last one and had been the one lowest down in the group. It felt like we were in slow motion, getting us all up out of the water. I didn't want that shark to come back.

Up on the boat, people said, ‘Gee that was the best thing ever! That shark! It was so close! It was fascinating. But it looked a bit different from the hammerhead sharks, didn’t it?’

I said, ‘Yeah, it was a different one. It was great, huh?’

I knew it was a mako. They are closely related to the Great White. Slightly smaller.

The grey sharks and other common sharks have an ellipse-shaped head when they approach head-on. Tiger shark heads are kind of boxy. If you see a mako or Great White coming towards you, it’s rounder than the other ones, shaped like a buoy—with teeth sticking out even when the mouth is closed.

Luckily, the mako was after something else that day. I don’t remember whether there was any fluoro-yellow in the group. Could have been those yellow fins.

One of my colleagues bought himself a pair of those fins, as an experiment. It works if you want the shark to come very close, to take a photo, for example. He loved it. I’m pretty sure that other people, if I had told them, would not have loved it.

Mako shark. Drawing by  Dean John Lazzaro .

Mako shark. Drawing by Dean John Lazzaro.

Sometimes if someone was too excited about sharks, scared already, and they had fins this colour, I would give them another ‘Special pair to try,’ because I couldn’t bear to see this.

N: You know, sometimes when you meet an animal, whether it’s a dog or an elephant, they seem to tell you something. Did the sharks ever seem to tell you anything?

C: I think sharks are a lot like some dogs. They threaten. They show you that you should get out of the way by their behaviour; the position of the body, of the fins. If the pectoral fins go down, you should go away. If they come towards you, then go and come towards you again, you should go away.

This is not your place.

They do threaten.

I’ve heard that the White one doesn’t.

People say the Great White is not so bright. I wouldn’t say that. But they say that the White will bite into whatever comes along, just to try and see if it’s good.

They say they have these ice-cold eyes. But sometimes you have the feeling that they know what they do. We know they don’t like the taste of human blood. So if they are playing or experimenting, ‘What is this thing like, to bite into?’ I think they might just go, once they get a taste of the blood.

I would always be rather a diver than a swimmer or a snorkeler. Anything that splashes around on the surface can be misunderstood. A certain frequency of splashing could be a ball of fish or something injured.

N: Divers can say things like that. People that don’t dive still need to be able to enjoy the sea. Splashing around on a board or playing in the waves is still a much safer activity than many things we do in a day.

C: Yes, that’s right.

But, it’s their home. If you go into someone else’s territory, you should know what you’re doing. You should be informed enough.

You hear that fisherman (not professionals) go out and feed sharks…they hear the engine and follow the boat. That’s why I don’t think sharks are that dumb. Because of these guys feeding the sharks, the engine attracts them. Sound under the water travels far and quick.

When divers go out in a boat and get in the water, the sharks expect a feed. So you might be at risk already by just taking a boat out to go diving because some dickheads get a thrill from feeding them.

Feeding and caressing young tiger sharks. (Contains advertising). What do the tiger sharks learn from these divers?

It’s one of the dumbest things ever.

Every time humans think they should give animals a treat or provoke them or feed them or pat them because they think animals are like humans, it’s so dumb. No one knows what the animal thinks. When we see the whales and they breach out of the water, people say, ‘Look, there’s so much joy in their jump.’ We don’t know why they breach. Some people say it’s because they communicate or warn other whales with the sound they make on the water. Or some say it’s to get rid of parasites. It’s not to please the humans.

Animals have their own reality that we only imagine we can comprehend.