Some fact, Some fiction...All fun!
Did you tune in for Shark Week on Discovery channel this year? I did and I must say they leaned more toward sharks being a kinder gentler animal that has been misjudged for a few violent deaths. The stories seemed to be more about shark lovers and their plight to educate the world on the over fished mistreated population. I love sharks but the tree hugging was starting to get to me until I saw one story where Dr. Samuel Gruber from University of Miami was showing the Sharkman how he was able to put a shark into a catatonic state by turning him upside down. Interesting. Sharkman later went to Bahamas and was shown a procedure where the diver "tickled" the shark's nose and put it into a catatonic state. Sharkman was able to take this trick with him and put a large tiger "asleep" somewhere near Africa.
I guess because sharks scare us, we are always interested in a possible Vulcan like sleeper hold that would put a shark down before they ripped your arm off. I thought to myself, I'd like to try this. Good sense and adulthood dismissed the thought. The next day I was diving with a few good friends on the deep ledge near the HOLE IN THE WALL. Angie was to my left and occasionally honked when she spotted something cool like a big turtle or moray. Angie honked and I got curious as to what she might be seeing. She then started squealing. I kicked over, and just up current; I could see a shark lying on the bottom. The current was ripping in the 2 plus knot range so I descended and held on to a rock until I could see the shark was not swimming off. I rock climbed back against the current and observed the shark. It was about 7 feet long, probably a Dusky or Sandbar and was hooked in some kind of a commercial rig. The shark was attached to 600# test white mono that was coupled to a stainless steel cable that was hooked into the reef somewhere up current. The shark couldn't move any further down current so I approached from the rear. I reached up and touched her and she exploded. It took me that long to realize this was a bad idea. By now, 2 other divers had latched on to the bottom near the sight and were wondering what I was going to do to help this poor animal. I was surrounded by do gooders so I remembered everything I learned from last night's show and reached over the shark and began rubbing just under the snout, too close to the teeth. To my surprise, she calmed down. I then switched hands, grabbed her by the dorsal and flipped her onto her back. I kept rubbing the area and slowly made my way to the hook. Yes, the one in her mouth! I noticed the hook was aluminum or some soft metal and would deteriorate over time so I elected to cut the line. As I sawed on the thick mono, the shark just slept. I cut the line and turned her right side up. A quick tug back and forth to help oxygenate her (I learned this on a fishing show) and she swam off. I kept the mono as a token and headed for the surface before the shark came back. I may be dumb enough to try this but I didn't think she would come back to thank me. Back on the boat I felt safe and experienced an unusual high. I was happy. Happy that I wasn't eaten by a ferocious animal and yes I will admit it, happy to be a do gooder and help preserve the Kings of the Ocean, our friends the sharks.
The call came in late on a Sunday afternoon. “There's a pelican on the beach with a broken leg, you have to help!” exclaimed the anguished beach-goer. I overheard as my fiance' talked to her mother and I listened non chalantly so as not to be accused of eaves dropping. Tania told me her Mom and Dad are watching a Pelican “flopping about on the beach " in obvious trouble. Having spent a summer of my youth studying Pelican Rescue and the young female interns associated with this effort, I felt prepared to offer my services to this humanitarian relief.
We jumped in the car and headed over to the scene. I brought along a towel to cover the wounded animal and a pair of wire snips in case there were any hooks involved as there usually are. When we arrived, the beach was calm and in the distance in the water was a lone pelican, not exactly distressed and corralled on the beach as I anticipated. At this point I was too far in to the rescue to turn back so I draped the towel over my shoulders and plunged into the sea to chase down the flailing bird. Injured birds can move pretty fast on the water. I swam out and the pelican swam farther out. Finally, feeling the fatigue of my shape and age, I swam around the bird and chased him toward shore so I could stand up and not drown or pass out. When I got close I draped the now cumbersome towel (why did I grab a big absorbent one?) over my head so I could sneak up on him. Sharks sneak up on pelicans not big guys with beach birkas breathing like the little engine that might. The Pelican got nervous and attacked me. After a few lunges, I was able to grab her by the bill and side stroke back towards the shore. She cooperated and was very helpful in dragging that towel that I now had placed over her head being careful not to sink her with the weight of the saturated cotton.
On shore, Tania and the Rodth family sprung into action and helped. Tania held the bird down while Tom and Nancy assisted me in removing a two treble hook lure from the Pelicans webbing. Several feet of monofilament had entangled the wings and legs and the bird possibly would have succumbed to the entrapment within a few days. Before release we noticed one older hook lodged in the skin in the neck area and operated to remove it.
Finished, we released the bird and I just sat there on the beach for a couple of minutes and rested. The Pelican actually just sat there with us looking as if we had fishy lolli pop treats for him to finish off his office visit. When I caught my breath, I picked her up and tossed her into the air. She spread out and flew over the ocean to the sounds of cheering from the onlookers that had gathered to witness the event. Just before she was out of sight, she turned and circled us, tipping one wing as to say thanks. It was suggested we should give the bird something to eat and I suggested, “If you want to help this bird give it a kick in the feathers, it is her familiarity with humans that got her into trouble to start with.” I am not advocating bird kicking but I think you get my point.
Diving the Hole in the Wall off Jupiter is always an unusual dive. The depth and proximity to the Gulfstream attracts many large pelagic visitors. This day turned stranger when a porcupine puffer fish launched out of a hole and bit my little finger off. Yes, I said puffer fish. Those cute, cuddly, doe –eyed denizens of the deep apparently have quite a temper and a vicious set of teeth.
After leading a group through the cavern called the hole in the wall, we traveled down the wall at a depth of 130'. In my peripheral, I saw an 18” long puffer fish neatly tucked into a lobster looking hole. I stopped the group so everyone could ooh and aah over the pretty fish. I first touched the fish on the head to get him to come out of the hole. Since the area is known to be a regular hangout for Bull sharks, this guy was not budging. Sharks like to eat blowfish. Persistently, I waggled my hand in front of his face acting like food. My hope was to entice him to come out and play. That is when he launched forward and got hold of my pinkie. Playtime over! Man that hurt. This cute little fish has teeth like a parrotfish and the ability to crush shells if necessary. He bit my kevlar gloved hand like a piranha on a dining mission. When he was ready, he let go. I was in pain, but relieved that my glove wasn't cut. When I took my glove off, I realized half of my finger was still in the glove. The stump that extended from my hand was clouding the water with green smoke. It was so thick I couldn't see my hand. I grabbed the base of my finger to attempt to stop the blood cloud and was shocked to see the damage inflicted.
The guffaws at the emergency room were endless. “A puffer fish?” everyone asked. They were unable to reattach the digit due to the crushing effect of the teeth on the glove. I will go to a plastic surgeon next week to get a skin graft or” flap over” as they called it. I am considering having a small Captain Hook style attachment but decided I would probably poke my eye out before I got used to it. With a generous supply of painkillers, I am restricted to shop duties. I am however humiliated by the weak reputation of the attacker.
The other comment I got from divers was” I never knew puffers could bite. I didn't even think they had teeth. “ Yes they can and do. Please be officially advised: Do not mess with the animals; they will defend themselves.
In my thirty years of diving, I am sorry to say I have touched the fishes. I have even captured a puffer to let it blow up for the crowd. I realized several years ago it is not nice to blow up the puffers and all the wildlife should be left to it's natural self. In my time I have swam with sharks on numerous occasions and had Green morays swim into my BC looking for a treat. Just last week I had a Goliath Grouper fight me over a cobia I speared too close to his territory. I never imagined I would have to tell my grandchildren I lost my finger to a puffer. Instead I will tell them I discovered a new species of deep-water puffer fishes. Just like their porcupine cousins, they are cuddly but have teeth half the length of their torso and can bite through a shark in a single lunge. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.