Here's how to ferret a diver out of the crowd on the beach. Yell "Shark!" As everyone else runs from the water in horror, divers don their gear, grab their cameras and, with a knowing look, head into the water.
That's a bit of an extreme example, of course, but there's only one sport in the world whose participants divers actively seek out encounters with those "mindless man-eaters." Over the years, divers have learned to appreciate the primal beauty and visceral thrill of shark encounters. In fact, entire destinations have been built on the quality of their shark diving. And after diving for even a short amount of time, a good adrenaline-pumping and awe-inspiring shark dive works its way to the top of every diver's lifetime must-do list.
Here's one to add to it Roatan's shark dive. A group of about 10 of us signed up for the shark dive at Anthony's Key Resort. The resort contracts with Maurilio Mirabella, who developed the shark dive with his Waihuka Adventure Diving Center on the south side of Roatan. Maurilio arrived early at AKR, our launch site for our meeting with the men in the gray suits. Among our group were several fairly new divers who'd never experienced a shark dive. Maurilio uses great care and a heady emphasis on safety.
After a thorough briefing, our group descends along the mooring line to a sandy patch next to a coral head. Several sharks are already circling as we settle onto the seafloor at about 70 feet. Once in place, Maurilio begins to hand feed (with chain-mail gloves) about 20 fairly large (5 to 8 feet) Caribbean reef sharks. Swarming around the sharks are plenty of (fat) grouper, yellowtails, spadefish and a host of other finned critters hoping to steal a bite of their own. But the sharks dominate the 30-minute blur of action.
One by one the sharks circle in, all close enough to reach out and touch (strictly forbidden!), and take their portion. The water around the scene fills with the electric tinge of raw, unpredictable wildness and at the same time is suffused with a quiet sense of wonder and awe. It's the kind of mingled brew of emotions only generated during a shark feed. Maurilio keeps the action on max until the coup d'état moment when he opens the bucket. Then mob rules take control, and it's every shark for itself, as the entire group goes for the buffet at once. When the bait is gone, an easy loping takes over, and everyone goes home.
The one element completely missing from the event was fear. Back on the boat, even the new divers had been converted. We were all now shark divers. To find us on a crowded beach, simply yell "Shark!"