A week ago, I was on a scuba-diving trip in the Caribbean. I’m not writing this to brag, I promise. This is a story about one of the biggest wildlife encounters I’m ever likely to experience.
There I was, finning along, happily gazing at a coral reef covered in small, sherbet-colored fish. For a moment, I looked away from the reef and into the ocean, into the deep blue distance that has no horizon. Usually, nothing appears on that blank cerulean screen. This time, the screen held an object, and it grabbed my entire attention. The object was silver, swift—and headed straight for us.
Shark. By its shape, unmistakably a hammerhead.
The gears of time downshifted to first as my brain took a long moment to process these thoughts: “The blue is not empty. That’s a shark. It’s coming our way.”
At first, I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. And then I believed completely, and what I believed was that a shark swimming toward a group of divers may not have benign motives.
“Shark!” I shouted into my regulator’s mouthpiece. The sound, to the extent there was a sound, given that humans aren’t built to express themselves well underwater, came out like this: “Arrrrrrrr.”
Then I started banging on my tank with a high-tech underwater flashlight worth more than all the clothes in my closet, combined. Not a great idea, but it got the attention of a few divers, and possibly the shark’s as well. The hammerhead turned to one side, giving us a glimpse of its sleek gray body. Then, with a few strokes of its powerful tail, it vanished into the depths.
I have watched plenty of wildlife, but only a few sightings have seared themselves on my mind, never to be erased. A humpback whale, breaching. A mother grizzly nursing her cubs on a gravel beach. And this shark, this sudden and unexpected hammerhead shark—this inscrutable message from out of the blue.