Just breathe, and get the hell back in the water

JAWS is one of the most terrifying horror movies in history and what makes it so scary, besides changing the way humans view sharks and, I like to think, sharks view humans, is that for the majority of the film you don’t see the shark. The first attacks reveal little about the supposedly ruthless fish besides the god awful sound of a person screaming underwater as she or he is devoured by a 20, or was it 25, foot Great White Shark.

As I stepped down the ladder into the shark cage a few weeks ago, this was the only thing on my mind. I had no idea what was below me in the ocean nor did I have any clue what would happen next. All I knew was this god damn wetsuit was too tight and the videos of white shark cage diving off the coast of Port Lincoln, South Australia were incredible.

“All you have to do is breathe through your mouth,” the skipper instructed during my training on the regulator that was quicker than a jackrabbit on a date. It seemed simple enough. Put the regulator in your mouth, pull the mask over your eyes, go down in the water and let gravity plus the 10 pound weights strapped to your waist do the rest. For someone whose never gone scuba diving and just barely made it through maroon badge level at Mrs. Bennett’s backyard swim class in Whitby, Ontario, this was kind of a big deal.

I was the last of five to get in the cage. The previous four brave souls had gone down without a peep and as I lowered my head into the water for the first time and breathed, I panicked. I remembered that scene in JAWS where Hooper enters the “anti-shark cage” and is lowered into the water by Quint and Brody in an attempt to pump 20 cc of strychnine nitrate into the massive three tonne fish before the boat sinks. “I got no spit,” Hooper said as he tried to clean his mask before going under. Immediately I sprang from the water and removed the regulator from my mouth, still hanging onto the ladder with one hand and gasping to the skipper that I was nervous. I must have thought the skipper weighed three tonnes himself and was 25 feet tall because the not an ounce of sympathy look he gave me said it all. “Ok, I’ll just go back down then,” I finished my sentence. I’d rather face off with a white shark than this bloke. Besides, how dangerous could getting in the water surrounded by rocks full of baby fur seals and two tuna heads as bait be?

We didn’t see any white sharks that day, only a Bronze Whaler Shark that was attracted by the bait, but quickly split. I learned white sharks eat bronzy’s and therefore understood its skittishness. This was prime hunting territory for one of nature’s greatest predators. A nomadic animal that can see as good as us and can detect our heartbeat. Mine felt like it had just been pumped with 45 cc of strychnine as I bobbed about, waiting for a massive fish that could easily smash the cage like a one-year-old eating their first birthday cake.

Before we boarded the ship in the early hours of the morning – which felt like we were marching off to war, single file, after the staff had crossed off our names on the clip board and we were told to have our cameras ready in case somebody fell in the water (he was joking) – the skipper told us we weren’t guaranteed to see white sharks. Like I mentioned, they’re nomads, but there’s always a chance one will be attracted by the chum (bait) in the water, or the rapid heartbeat of one of their biggest fans.

Nobody could forget an experience like this. From watching the sun come up in the middle of the ocean to the moment the boat finally hit rocky water and people lunged for the vomit bags (no joke, it was really bad). It was like watching my recorded from tv version of JAWS for the first time on a VHS tape. Disappointing not seeing the real jaws up close. It would have clocked my heart rate at over 200, easy. And after so much thought about doing this with other jaws heads, I’m confident it will be something I do again. Sort of feels like I went to call on a friend at their house and this time they weren’t home. I won’t forget the address. Trust me.