Contributed by Jo
It all started on flying in early on Friday the 22nd (a day before the rest of the crew, which were coming from the US). I received the most wonderful welcome and had a great time scoping out my new home for the next week and a half before having a great nights rest in my DOUBLE KING sized bed, meaning that it was about 4m wide (never knew they made beds that large!). I awoke to the sound of "Yeeeehaw" echoing through the place and knew at once that the Texans and the rest of the gang had arrived.
I'd been invited by Shark Diver Magazine and various shark researchers to participate on the bull shark tagging program which was in it's second year of being conducted in Fiji and looked to identify the movements of the bull shark in an effort to protect it's habitat. I was introduced to those I hadn't yet met and very excited about the chance to work with some of these world renown Sharkies. We were briefed about the coming activities and then had the rest of the day to settle in and get to know one another well enough before we dived as a team which would have to work together very closely and with utmost trust in each others abilities.... How better to do this than get stuck straight into the kava.
On the team were Gary and Brenda Adkison (shark film makers, researchers, lecturers and expert shark divers), Eli and Rafa from Shark Diver Mag (filming for 'Chasing Sharks' doco and shooting for the magazine), Karen and Paul (Deep Sea Photography), the amazing (I can't emphasize this word enough) Fijian crew and myself, invited to assist, photograph and run amok with the guys with whom I shared a research trip to South Africa studying the great whites last year.
Our first day we were up with the sparrows and prepping the equipment, we set off full of anticipation and though the first few days were only to be spent getting friendly with the sharks, we were all very excited about diving with two of the top 5 most feared sharks in the world (the tiger and bull sharks) though we were briefed that we 'could' get to experience 8 different species at any one time. Can you imagine that! I am not sure if that means anything to most people, but that is a pretty incredible thing. We arrived at our site and were briefed in different scenarios. You could tell from the smile on most of our faces that we were pretty bloody excited and full of anticipation, that being said, all on board were very experienced and knew not to let excitement get in the way of keeping out wits about us and we listened hard to all that was said, especially as most of our dives were quite deep which required extra prep. After covering all visible flesh we toppled over the side and sunk down into the depths.
The last to arrive at the bottom was the guys with the food which would be attract the sharks to us for them to get used to pur presence. Within a minute three strong looking bull sharks loomed out of the dark and then without much delay we were surrounded by over 10 quite mature bulls. I was in heaven, these beasts were so inquisitive, and big and ... then the lemon sharks came out to play followed by the tawny nurses and silvertips. We only moved with necessary action to bump them out of the way, clear our masks when they knocked us on occasion, and to shoot them (by that I mean photograph and video). Most had large camera equipment with strobes jutting out at all angles and these crew always got pole position as these could be used to defend yourself when the sharks became a little too playful.
We hear a rat-tat-tat-tat, knowing full well that someone has rapped their tank for good reason we all immediately FREEZE what we are doing and look from diver to diver urgently to get up to speed info, we see the signal and direction pointed and all heads turn to look. We see nothing straight away but then slowly a shape forms and is seen moving just out of good sight. Our hearts skip a beat, not because we are scared but because we all have a very healthy 'respect' for this particular one and are very anxious to get up close and personal. When it feels ready it slips into the fray and commences investigating us at it's own leisure... it's a tiger shark and it's huge.
When the depths finally caught up to us as humans we swam up the reef bed to a shallower location and continued observing and to be observed. We were totally elated to find that the tiger shark found us good company and decided to hang around for most of the dive. Whenever it felt complacency it certainly put us back into our places by stamping it's authority with whip of it's tail or a quick 180 spinning it's entire body around in a microsecond to eyeball you up close. Gawd it was so graceful and beautiful to watch.
On that first day, we had encountered 7 different species in large numbers and by day two we were to see all known species in the region. We couldn't have asked for more.
The trip continued with the diving getting more and more exciting and the night time stories over beers very entertaining. The local people were such beautiful souls and I loved that they accepted me and taught me a lot about their culture and everyday living.
Funny story: David one of our Fijian crew is from a very remote island village and when a Japanese man gave him some biscuits he thought they were so good that he took the remainder of the biscuits and buried them hoping to grow his own biscuit tree for his people. What beautiful innocence! We presented him with a tree covered in choc chip cookies and tim-tams on our last day much to the amusement of the rest of the Fijian crew.
I was presented with a great opportunity to kick-start shark expeditions for divers wishing to dive with these animals in the beautiful Fijian waters under controlled conditions whilst being educated in shark awareness, which I will look into over the next few months, so keep an eye out!. It was such a great experience to have studied with some of the most knowledgeable sharkies in the world and I felt privileged once again to be able to dive with magnificent beasts without incident which I put down to being completely comfortable with their presence, as well as the skill of the Fijian crew who have a very obvious affinity with, understanding of, and great respect for these creatures.
So, all in all a wonderful time, an incredibly intimate adventure with the tigers and bulls, a rare learning opportunity, and another unforgettable experience that will stay with me for a long long time.
All photos and text are subject to copyright. ęJo Northey and Eli Martinez (Shark Diving Magazine, USA).