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A Scary Shark Encounter (Belize)

Copyright 1999 -- story by Jean-Philippe Soule

In the wake of the movie The Big Blue, the sports of freediving and spearfishing have received international recognition and are riding a surge of popularity. But for us, what started as a novelty has become a necessity; it is our sole means to obtain fresh food during our three-year, 4000 mile paddling expedition in Central America. After each paddling day I love to spend a couple of hours in the water. I often encounter sharks, mainly black tip reef sharks and nurse sharks, occasionally hammerheads. These aren't aggressive. When I see them I just move farther on before I start spearfishing. People often ask me, "Aren't you afraid to freedive with sharks?" I always replied, "No, sharks aren't aggressive". However, a nearly tragic experience in Belize recently shook my confidence.

. . .

By the time I had the fish on the stringer, the water visibility was less than 10 feet. The Tarpons disappeared. My fish had been bleeding abundantly and I knew I had to get out of the water quickly. I was still in 12-foot deep water but couldn't see the bottom anymore. I re-armed my speargun and before I could swim one more stroke, a gray mass moved right at me. I aimed my gun thinking it might be a large Tarpon. I suddenly choked on my snorkel, swallowed water and quickly kicked backwards. A huge gray shark had stopped just 6 feet from me. My two quick fin kicks seemed to have scared him as much as he scared me, so I thought. Before I had made much progress, the shark was back full speed, coming right at me while shaking its head from side to side. In this water with poor visibility, it quickly disappeared. This time I clearly saw that it was bigger than me. In a few seconds it was back again. I was frozen, unable to swim. I knew my bleeding fish was driving it crazy, but I couldn't look down to my hip to unclip the stringer. I was paralyzed, just holding on to my speargun tightly to fend off my aggressor. Each time I lost sight of it I would quickly spin around, rotating my head, wondering from what direction it would be coming next . . .

Jean-Philippe Soule


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