Riding the Wild Caribbean and a Strange Shark Encounter

The breeze was blowing hard from the East, and the waves on the seaward side of the island were higher than a paddler’s head, so a small group of us went out to challenge and play in the waves.

The route around the island takes us along the shallow, sheltered side of the island first. Exposure to the open sea is a gradual process, as we emerge from the shelter of the island, and then from the protection of the reef crest. Once we pass the rock-pile known as Mitch island, we gradually enter the unprotected waters of the wild Caribbean Sea. The waves grow ever higher and farther apart as we edge out and away from the reef. Riding abreast of each other, we can see each other’s kayak disappear behind the crests of waves and emerge on top again. It was not too wild, as the waves were not breaking over us, much. But it is often a first experience for our travelling companions, and leaves a lasting impression.

We had another lasting impression that day. As we approached the end of our circumnavigation, I passed over a sleeping nurse shark. Nurse sharks are quite common at Lighthouse Reef; we see them nearly every snorkel. And the sharks often patrol around the lagoon, hoping someone will be cleaning fish and will leave the offal in the water. When we are cleaning fish, we can have as many as seven sharks pushing right into the shallows, until their dorsal fins and backs are out of the water.

Nurse sharks are not generally aggressive. They have fine teeth, not the large, triangular daggers one associates with the requiem sharks, like blacktip, reef and bull sharks. Or Jaws, for that matter. By the way, great white sharks are not generally found in tropical waters. That’s why Jaws took place on the New England coast. But I digress.

As I passed over the shark, I called out to my paddling companions who were right behind me in a double kayak. The shark started swimming, and turned to cross my bow. The water was about 2m deep, so there was no need for the shark to move, nor any need to expect what happened next.

As soon as the shark crossed my bow I forget about it until, a few seconds later, my kayak was suddenly pulled to a halt, and I heard a noise of something very large, rolling on the surface. I looked back to see my nurse shark rolling over, its tail and pectoral fin coming right out of the water before it released my boat and dove beneath the surface.

I was so glad to have witnesses to this event as I doubted anyone would believe me. A nurse shark attack a kayak rudder? Unheard of as far as I knew.

When we go to the beach I inspected the rudder. I expected to find that it was missing paint. The silvery glint of the aluminum rudder might be enough to fool a fish into thinking a wounded fish was closely following my boat. But in this case, the rudder was fairly new, and except for a long scratch in the black paint, it appeared unlike any wounded fish I have ever seen. I still don’t know why that shark decided to bite my rudder, but it hasn’t made me afraid to swim with these mysterious and beautiful creatures. I’ll be ready next time I pass over one though, with a camera in one hand. This time I want evidence I can share.

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About jackwildeadventures

I am a Biologist, a Naturalist, and a Sea Kayak Guide. I live in a beach town on the coast of the Sea of Cortez, with my lovely wife, Lorena.

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