Turning 23 in a Shark Cage

04 August 2014

When I was a child I loved going to the zoo. I'm pretty sure every child did. But as I got older zoos began seem a bit weird to me. This was solidified during my trip to the Wuhan Zoo when I saw the abysmal state the animals were housed in. Ever since I could never see zoos the same way.

As I've grown up and matured as a traveler, I now have learned there are other ways to see animals. Ways that don't make the animal endure any unhealthy stress but still teach the public about preservation.

I now choose to go to the animal in the wild. So when I drove up to the North Shore to see sharks, I decided I'd rather see them through a cage than in a cage.

As we loaded onto the boat and started heading out to sea I asked a crew member, "So where's the chum?"

"Oh, we don't need that. The sharks are already there. They're so used to fisherman going by and throwing scraps over board that the sound of the boat engine is enough to attract them."

This was good news for me as it meant I wouldn't be swimming in bloody fish water. It was also nice to know that the tour wasn't disrupting the daily patterns of the sharks but instead just playing on their natural inclinations. This was as anti-zoo as an animal encounter could get.

The boat pulled up to the cage and the crew fastened it to the side. Automatically, sharks came up and began to circle the boat, their dorsal fins just barely below the surface of the water.

"Ok, you first!" the captain said pointing at me.

With a boat full of eager tourists waiting behind me there was no time to hesitate. I grabbed my snorkel gear and jumped into the cage.

From here I could take in everything clearly; nothing but deep, blue ocean below and about ten Galapagos sharks swimming around me, some measuring over ten feet long.

While everyone else in the cage bounced around excitedly trying to film the sharks on their GoPros, I sat still at one spot in front of the plexiglass window and watched the sharks glide in and out of view.

"At this time of the day", a crew member had explained, "it is too hard to hunt. The sharks prefer darker lighting to take cover in. But sharks can't sleep or they'll drown. So right now they're just on 'autopilot' trying to conserve their energy until they can feed again."

Watching the sharks lazily drift through the water, you could almost forget what they were capable of doing. There were, however, moments when I would watch a shadowy figure start coming towards me from the hazy blue distance, becoming clearer and clearer as it approached. Inside of me I felt a primordial fear telling me to run away but then I remembered that I was secure in the cage.

At one point, a strange new shape caught my eye. I looked out and saw a large mahi mahi cruising off in the distance. In an instant, one of the sharks snapped out of his sleepy swim and darted for the fish. It was mind blowing how quickly he moved, covering meters in mere seconds. Everything happened so fast that my eyes didn't even have time to process what happened. A blink and it was over. The mahi mahi was gone and the shark was chomping down on something. It was stunning to experience and reminded me again how glad I was that I wasn't at some boring zoo. Here I was in the wild, watching sharks actually hunt and feed.

When our session was over I climbed back into the boat and gave a thumbs up to the captain.

"You know, you really picked a perfect day to do this." He said gesturing at the beautiful blue sky.

"I know," I replied, "It's my birthday!"

This North Shore Shark Cage Encounter was done with Discover Hawaii Tours.

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