November 8, 2012, is a day we won’t soon forget on the Solmar V. It was our first trip back to Roca Partida, a very special and isolated dive site some 300 miles south west of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We were excited because the weather was great, the water was warm (80 degrees F) and there was a good chance we would see some whale sharks. After a five-minute ride in the pangas, we dropped into the water. We took our time taking the scale of this place. It’s amazing and covered in fish of all colors and sizes. They fill the water column. There were also sharks everywhere you look: Galapagos sharks, silvertips and whitetips. The water was clear— some 80 feet of visibility — so you could observe everything at once. It’s almost a sensory overload. The group moved on to the north point where we saw a large shadow. It was a 35-foot whale shark heading right for us. We were ecstatic! As it swam closer, we noticed something odd — a huge line some 6 inches thick was wrapped completely around the midsection of this female whale shark. We were saddened because the line seemed to dig into the thick epidermis and had obviously been there for a long time. Upon closer inspection you could see large anemones and gooseneck barnacles covered the line in its entirety. The growth on the line seemed to irritate the shark with every swagger of its giant tail. We watched as the whale shark swam away into the blue.
In between dives, we discussed cutting the poor shark free. All had an opinion about an attempt on cutting it loose: some thought the shark would freak out and swim away fast, some thought it wasn't possible to cut through the thick line. Either way, it would be dangerous, especially if the shark was deep. Just in case, our lead divemaster, Dani, borrowed a knife from a guest and thought if he saw an opportunity he would try to cut the thick line.
Our second dive started much like the first, but this time all we could think about was the whale shark. Within minutes my group saw the shark. All took a closer look this time, observing the line and how deep the line had been rubbing into the skin. There was definitely some damage done. We knew this line had to come off. Unfortunately, nobody in my group had a knife. We looked for Dani, but his group was a bit farther down the dive site. Knowing that our spotted friends are creatures of habit, we waited in the same area. It was toward the end of the dive and we were waiting at 60 feet. I spotted the whale shark deep, more than 100 feet, which would blow the profile of my group. So we slowly swam down to about 85 feet and it swam to us. Just as we met, Dani charged from above and grabbed the line on the shark with great tenacity. He sawed away and made quick work of this impossible line. It was amazing! He peeled the line from the flesh of the whale shark. The great fish brushed the line off and shed it like a chain of bondage... it was free. Wow! I swam back down to pick up the line for Dani, so we could prove to the rest of the group that the impossible was in fact possible.
It was a feeling of relief knowing that we saved this amazing creature from a negative impact that we humans sometimes impose on animals of the ocean. When I hear about, read about or witness courage like this I know that our oceans will survive because of people like Dani.