North Shore Shark Adventure
I was once again up before the sun dawned and was out on the lanai listening to the cacophonic cavalcade of rooster chants which would inform every morning. I was excited not from the serenade, but because Kristiane and I were going shark cage diving out of Haleiwa (pronounced Hah-lee-eh-vah) at 8 a.m. Or so I thought. We arrived at 8 to discover… an empty berth. I called North Shore Shark Adventures and discovered the trip was actually booked for 7 a.m., no refunds. I booked the next trip out and paid full freight. It was what it was; a consequence of my inattention to detail. That being said, the person on the other end of the phone did sound very apologetic and sincere… I suspect they had experience dealing on the phone with those who have the recall capacity of a planaria and felt sorry for me.
Kristiane and I hung out on the dock until the boat returned an hour or so later then boarded. This trip had a party of 10, all of whom had driven up from Waikiki with the exception of Kristiane and myself. There were two beautifully sculpted twenty something couples and a family of four, also beautiful, which included two children I’d estimate between four and 27. After inquiring, they were eight and 11; I’ve always been terrible at estimating ages, weight and stock options. We left the dock at around 10 and were on our way.
It was a gorgeous day. 82 F, sunny with scattered cumulus and 4/10 high level strata-cirrus clouds attenuating the azure sky (my meteorological Coast Guard experience comes to the fore. I didn’t have access to a Stevenson screen so I couldn’t calculate the dew point to get the humidty). The further we sailed, the more prominent the swells. At the max the sea state was probably two to three feet, but you felt it on the small fishing boat.
The shark cages are moored offshore around three miles out of Haleiwa. In an aside, I only knew about this from the current TV series Hawaii Five-O. Joanne had been watching the series and I was… meh. Until we decided we were travelling to Hawaii at which point I became an avid fan; although… in all honesty, that’s the main attraction of this show for me. The characters are entertaining, but the writing is unimaginative and formulaic and the spin that these guys are above the law but that’s okay annoys me. Anyway, in one episode they dumped a suspect into a shark cage to get him to offer up information… blah, blah, blah. For me, the episode boiled down to “shark cage” in Oahu and is that for real? I hit the internet and it was a done deal. There would be cage diving in Hawaii.
Diving for Dollars
We moored three miles out of Haleiwa. Once we moored, sharks immediately swarmed the boat. What… they were expecting an imminent, catastrophic, vessel structural failure? What’s going on here? The crew were exceptionally informative and engaging, offering history and facts throughout the entire trip. They explained that they were an environmentally friendly company. No chumming to attract sharks, it wasn’t necessary. The sharks were conditioned to the sound of fishing vessel motors. Crab fishermen would often throw edibles overboard. Hey… if McDonalds was regularly throwing free quarter pounders out the door after closing, you don’t think that would draw a crowd? Yeah, that made sense to me. I inquired as to the types and sizes of sharks and was informed that we would be seeing Sandbar and Galapagos sharks ranging in size from four to eight feet long. Nice.
Suddenly, I felt intense pain in my right arm, which was puzzling because the sharks were in the water and I was still on the boat. Kristiane had grabbed my arm and was digging in hard. “Dad! Look!” Now Kristiane is one of the most grounded people I know. She rarely gets excited and is very, very smart. Even if she does get rattled, nervous, or excited, she tends not to be demonstrative.
This was the most excited I’d ever seen her. She was practically vibrating. The tropical water was exceptionally clear and there were a number of large grey shapes moving beneath the surface; I’d estimate at least 10 of them were circling. This was a new and alien experience. When one goes swimming in nature, there’s always the visceral fear of things underwater. Now we had confirmation. There was definitely things in the water, so of course we were jumping in. We were itching to go and the shiny, beautiful, twenty somethings would go first then the family of four and Kristiane and I would be next.
While we stood on deck awaiting our turn, one of the crew started tossing a Javex bottle attached to a rope over the side, then pulling it in and repeating the process. Huh. What was that all about? I asked a crew member and was informed that they were mimicking the sound of fishermen tossing… well. Guts and stuff overboard. Again, the sharks have been conditioned. Sharks aren’t too bright. They were going for that Javex bottle like someone tossed a Snickers bar onto the floor at a Weight Watchers ™ meeting. Thrashing and gnashing… well. It was a spectacle, no doubt about it. Then it was our turn to hit the water. Note to self, when not in a cage, don’t jump into the water on the North Shore with a splash audible to sharks. They’ll think you’re fish guts and try to eat you.
The family were first getting into the cage and the two kids were a little apprehensive. It reminded me of the scene in Jaws where the family of four get into the water because the mayor has intimidated them and they do it but they look terrified. They’re dog paddling and keeping an intent watch and they didn’t even know if the shark was there. In this instance, the parents played the mayor. Reassurance from mom and dad that sharing space with biological killing machines in their habitat was *okay*…. and I got that. Let’s face it, statistically, there is a higher probability that they’ll be killed by listeria from school cafeteria food; but on the other hand I do understand the children’s innate reaction and hesitation at getting into the water with such large numbers of primordial, top o’ the food chain alpha predators in such close proximity. Eventually, they made it into the cage. It remains to be seen whether they’ll need therapy later in life or embrace the experience.
An Alien World
Kristiane and I were next. Our only gear were mask and snorkels. There was some chop and staying underwater was a chore. I jammed my knees between the horizontal bars of the cage for support and give myself enough control to overcome my buoyancy. The rest of the experience was incredible… and alien. The visibility in the crystal clear, cerulean blue water must have been a solid fifty feet. The first shark looked about three inches long as it snaked towards me from the distance. The cage was constructed of aluminum with a plexi-glass window a foot high which ran horizontally about a foot from the top of the cage so the bars didn’t obstruct the view.
The perspective shifted from a three inch shark to six feet quickly. The light dappled and played off its pale grey skin as it slowly slid by inches from my knees. With an explosive burst it shot for the surface as the Javex bottle hit the water and three others joined the melee. Every time the bottle hit the surface, there was a scramble for the bottle by these pelagic gluttons. This is why there’s no shark chapter of Mensa. I had a little underwater video cam which didn’t really offer the best quality, but managed to catch the experience. I gave it to Kristiane to catch the action her side of the cage. After ten minutes or so, she passed it back to me. I got a nice shot of her grinning from ear to ear… on the inside, because her mouth was O-shaped on the snorkel’s mouthpiece. The experience seemed to end all too soon and we were piling back onto the boat and heading back into Haleiwa Harbour.
Vid of our shark cage death wish expedition (to some) out of Haleiwa Harbour
It was a unique experience and well worth the double fee due to my stupidity. We showed the video to Joanne and Michelle back at the house and both were glad they didn’t take part. I understand that. There’s something primal and viscerally frightening about sharks. I like it. The only thing that could compare was my dive with Great White’s off Guadalupe, Mexico two years later.