In the summer of 2000, I had taken a beginner scuba diving course. It was something I always had wanted to do and over two weekends, in a classroom and at a local hotel pool, I learned the basics of scuba diving, equipment handling, and how to survive underwater. After one weekend of 4 dives in 30 feet of water I was a certified beginner diver. Immediately after that, I couldn’t wait to go on my next diving trip!
It turned out that my next trip wound up being about a month or two later. I signed up for a weekend dive trip in West Palm Beach, Florida. It was going to be a shark dive to participate in a shark feeding excursion. I couldn’t wait to go! I drove down the morning of the trip to West Palm, with two rented tanks, and a regulator to the launch site. Once there, myself and about 20 or so other people loaded all the gear on the dive boat, and we began to head out. It was about 9:00 a.m. in the morning and we were heading to a site called “The Nursery” by the dive master. The site was supposedly in about 30 feet of water and was roughly just a couple of miles off shore.
It was a beautiful, sunny and clear day. On the way to the dive site, the dive master filled us all in on what we would be doing. “The Nursery” was a site where we would be diving with nurse sharks. Nurse sharks are normally non-aggressive species of sharks, and tend to normally swim along the bottom of the ocean feeding mostly on clams, crabs and other crustaceans. They normally average between 4 – 8 feet in length and have flat teeth designed more for crushing their food, rather than tearing it like other shark species do.
The dive master happened to be the husband of my former girlfriend at the time’s, friend. He told us about what we would be doing during the dive. The plan was that the twenty of us were to enter the water one at a time, and let all the air out of our vests, so that we settled on the bottom. We were to kneel on the bottom of the ocean in roughly a semi-circle and cross our arms with our hands tucked underneath our armpits. Once everyone was on the bottom and ready, the “feeder” would enter the water. The term “shark feeding” was really a misnomer as none of the animals would really be fed by us. The “feeder” put some fish chunks into what looked like a small round pool filter with small holes all around it, about 8-10″ long that fit over his hand like a glove. He would then wave this device in the water and as the oils from the fish chunks seeped into the water, it would attract the sharks. At no time would they actually be fed!
He had also told us on-board the boat that he would try and bring the sharks around in front of each of us and we could lie forward on the bottom and get nose to nose with a shark. As the sharks started coming around I was watching in astonishment! Even though I knew these were docile creatures, being surrounded with half a dozen or so sharks averaging about 6-7′ in length was quite an eye-opening experience! The handler brought one near me and I was eye to eye with it from no more than 6″ away. It was incredible!!!
As the handler moved on to other people bringing the sharks around to them, I was still captivated by everything going on around me. I was also focusing on remembering to monitor my air gauge and trying to keep myself kneeling on the bottom. But it turned out there was just a little bit of an underwater current. Not much, just a knot or two, but enough to try and lift me off the bottom. Being a new diver, I was having difficulty keeping myself on the bottom. I kept getting lifted up and push around a bit by the current. Well to try and counter-balance this I wound up taking my hands out from under my armpits and trying to use them to gently push up and keep myself on the bottom.
Well while this was going on, and since I was paying more attention to what was going on just a few feet away from me, I wasn’t aware that I still had my hands out in the water. The next thing I knew, I felt something almost like a vise coming down on my right hand. When I looked over, there my hand was inside the mouth of probably a 7 foot nurse shark! I think my eyes must have popped out of my sockets like a cartoon when I saw this!!! I immediately yanked my hand out of its mouth, raking my hand along its teeth in the process. Well like I said, nurse sharks have flat, chiclet like teeth used for crushing. Even though they are not triangular, they were still sharp. I wound up getting about half a dozen razor-like cuts on my fingers. So now I was in 30 feet of water, openly bleeding, surrounded by sharks!!! Talk about a unique predicament!
I looked over to my right to a guy I had met who had taken the beginner diving course with me and I literally saw him mouth something to the effect, “Holy shit!” Exactly what I was thinking. I tucked my hand quickly under my arm and hoped like hell I wouldn’t attract any of the non-docile kind of fishies. About 5 minutes later, after the “feeding” was done, we all had about 10 more minutes of air left to swim around the area. My thought was still, hope there’s nothing else in the neighborhood that would like to see how I tasted!
Once back on the boat, everyone was breaking down their gear, smiling and talking about how incredible the dive had been. I was trying to share in the hoopla while looking around the boat to find something to stop the bleeding of my hand! In as casual a manner as I could I quietly asked, “So, did anyone else get bitten?” A couple of people asked me in amazement if I had really been bitten. I said “yes” and showed them my hand. The dive master hearing us talking, shouted “WHAT?” He came charging from the bow of the boat to the back where I was standing and asked to see my hand. I showed him my hand and the cuts on it. He told me in all the years he had been doing this he had never had someone bitten before. As calmly and casually as I could I said, “Well you have now.”
It turned out ironically that the summer of 2000 happened to be one of the most active seasons for shark bites in Florida waters in quite awhile. It was being reported on the news fairly often. In the ultimate sign of fate or bad irony, the Florida state legislature passed a ban on so-called “shark feedings” shortly after this incident throughout the state of Florida!
So even though it was really stupidity on my part, and not paying attention to my surroundings, I can honestly say I’ve been bitten by a shark! The even funnier side of the story is that a friend of mine who I worked with at the time, who I told the day before about what I was going to do, told me sarcastically that I was crazy and NOT to get bit by a shark! Turns out I did just the opposite. Ten years later, he still reminds me of this incident and how he tried to warn me!