Nik Darlington 11.50am
We hovered in clear blue mid-water, soaring over a pristine piste of snow-white sand. Twenty metres to the shimmering sun on the surface, another five to the seabed below.
Out of the deeper-blue distance, I spotted shards of silver and grey. Then another. Those shards became shapes; the shapes became a grey-blue shadow.
Yannick and I locked eyes, nodded and returned our sights to the enlarging shadow. Rapt. In this silent world, a look conveys more than words.
The shadow took form. A sleek six feet, maybe slightly more. The distance shortened, but slowly, as is its want, until a natural cordon ten metres in diameter was formed.
Yannick and I assumed the safest, recommended stance: back-to-back, never take your eyes off its circling form. Precautionary, of course, but truly indeed just to maintain a good look of it. Such economy of movement. So at home.
Unlike Yannick and I, thrill-seeking spectators in an alien environment. Though this is voyeurism with risks. Its graceful orbit became tighter, to the point of its being suffocating. At moments like this one appreciates the non-contradiction of claustrophobia in open water.
Admiration quickly became apprehension. No more than five metres separated us. Little more than two times it.
Then it stopped. Time stood still. Noiselessness interrupted by a noise so inimitable, yet unforgettable. Like a vehicle exhaust backfiring, or the expert crack of a whip.
By the time I had realised it was heading towards us, the sleek form had become a shadow once more. Then shards of silver and grey. Then nothing. All that remained was the shudder of displaced water against my stiffened body. Hairs don’t often stand on end under water.
Yannick and I locked eyes, and smiled.
Yesterday in Bangkok, the oceanic white tip shark was given unprecedented protection by CITES. Its numbers are in dramatic decline as a result of barbaric fishing practices (its prominent dorsal fin is a prized ingredient for Oriental pottage and eccentric medicines).
Opposition from China and Japan has long prevented its accession to a list of protected species but now, alongside three types of hammerheads and the porbeagle, the vulnerable oceanic white tip has been given a stay of execution.
Sharks are too often misunderstood, mistreated and maligned in fiction and film. As our understanding of sharks has increased, however, nations around the world have come to realise their immense worth and intrinsic beauty. Apparently the sea change has been arrived at in part by South American countries comprehending the vast tourism dollars that come with healthy shark stocks.
In coming into direct contact with sharks big and small over the years, I have certainly come to know fear and delight in equal measure. Fear is a good thing - it engenders respect. And is the truest basis for the sublime. There aren’t many good news stories where sharks are concerned. This is one.
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