by David Prichard & Lily Mak
“So we’re going down unprotected with about 30 hungry sharks?”
“No worries, mate!”
That was the response from our cocky Aussie divemaster, Brad, as we were about to dive down into the Scuba Zoo in a remote portion of the Coral Sea. This “close encounter” zoo is the grand finale of a week of dives on Mike Ball’s “Spoilsport” liveaboard out of Townsville, Australia, and is in a secret location only known by the boat’s crew.
As we descended down to our somewhat shallow destination (50 ft.) we spotted three large shark cages and already several large gray shapes swimming along the bottom.
The divemasters ushered us not into the cages, but on top of them so that we could get an unencumbered view of the impending show. Arrayed in the middle of our “L” shaped alignment of cages was a large, solitary metal trashcan suspended in midwater by a rope through a ring secured to the sea floor. The can had holes cut into it to expose the goodies within and its top was secured by another braided rope. A divemaster controlled both ropes and moved the bouncing can up and down – ringing the dinner bell.
Already Remoras and other small fish were trying their best to sneak bites out of the holes in the can, but the main dinner guests were already showing up for the main course.
Blacktip and Whitetip sharks began circling not only the can, but us as well. Were they eying us as the appetizers? Every diver on top of the cages had cameras flashing away as the sharks started darting between the cages and come near us for a close inspection.
Curious sharks like to come up and “bump” interesting objects with their nose for a close inspection. On several occasions I got extreme close-ups of these sharks when they came in to bump my video camera housing. I was startled one time though when a shark brushed my fins behind me as I knelt on top of the cage.
After about 20 minutes of these close encounters, we were all ushered into the cages because “dinner” was about to be served. The second rope attached to the can’s lid was pulled loose and a small Styrofoam float popped up with a stringer of fish heads attached.
“Wham!” An instant melee of about 30 swirling sharks attacked the offering like a frightening scene from “Jaws,” but more like footage of Piranhas chowing down in the Amazon River. Cameras blazed away at the carnage, but ever so quickly the meal was over. In less than a minute, the sharks had cleaned the stringer and then dashed off into the blue like they were late for an appointment.
Barely after the last shark had just turned tail, the divemasters brought us out of the cages so we could search the sea floor for souvenir shark teeth.
Like Brad said, “No worries, mate!”