When the Sharks Come, an excerpt

Ray Pittman

Ray Pittman

Meet Ray Pittman, a dive master, boat captain, community developer and storyteller. Ray lives in the Fiji Islands with his wife and three daughters. From his childhood in the jungles and along the coast of Southeast Asia, he has been in love with the seas. In Ray’s gripping life story he is threatened by pirates, shipwrecks, mysterious invaders, and sharks as he swims in the ocean in the dark of night. He discovers he cannot be a bystander in the fight for his soul.

There were no moon or stars shining on the ocean that night. The darkness hung like a black drape from the heavens to the sea. We strapped a couple pressure lanterns (pressurized kerosene lanterns that you pump and that burn bright for a long time) to a six-foot dugout canoe with bamboo outriggers. Dark nights were the best for lobster hunting because the moon wouldn’t cast a shadow from the hunters and alert our prey. The light from the pressure lanterns would be enough to see the red reflections of the lobster’s eyes.

I was fairly new to night diving, having only done it a couple of times, and I was a little bit scared, to say the least. Spear fishermen have a lot of stories about sharks. Not all of them end well. If you want to die from a shark bite, go spear some fish and carry them on a string through the ocean in the middle of the night. It’s not the shark’s fault if you’re stupid. To avoid that, we would put the fish in a canoe. We weren’t that stupid…at least not until underwater flashlights came out.

I was incredibly curious about sharks and shark behavior. Since I shared the ocean with them, I wanted to understand these creatures. I had read every article and watched every documentary that I could find. The main things I knew were that sharks had poor eyesight, sharp teeth, an uncanny sense of smell and a hypersensitivity to vibrations, which guided them more than their vision. I always had a healthy respect for them even though it wasn’t until years later that I began to really appreciate the very important role they played in the health of the ocean.

I thought of them now as we were entering their world at feeding time. “The perfect killing machine,” someone with a British accent was narrating in my head. “The fool steps unwittingly into the shark infested waters…spear fishing is the most dangerous activity one can engage in whilst in tropical waters.” I shivered as the cold saltwater crept up my bare chest and over my ears….

Marawai stayed behind on the beach while we swam out through a small passage in the reef that encircles the lagoon….Breakers thundered over the reef walls around us as we allowed ourselves to be sucked out through the channel. The sea seemed particularly angry with us that night and finding lobsters proved difficult. However, we managed to spear a number of fish as we headed out, farther and farther away from land. Our lantern cast an eerie glow around the canoe, a ten-foot diameter net of light that sank only twelve feet deep at best.

A black silhouette gracefully glided beneath me then disappeared into the darkness from which it came. The shark began to appear in and out of the shadows, again and again. Was it one shark or several sharks….