Very little can get my feet moving quickly across the deck of a ship as when someone says the word, “Shark”. I’m was the kid who grew up with the movie Jaws stuck in my head at a very young age. Most of the people I talk to you (maybe all of them) inform me how that film still makes them frightened of the water. Not me. That movie hit me at the age when I was fascinated by the idea of sea monsters. Jaws was a monster movie to me, until I realized that in terms of the white shark, monsters were real. That started my spiral into the sciences as I devoured every book I could find about sharks and then the ocean.
Which brings me here, on the NOAA vessel the Delaware II. It was June and we were on the last leg of a grueling 25 days out at sea. I worked long house and slept little. The weather had been phenomenal, with fog being the worst weather we experienced on the trip. I was lounging on the back deck, enjoying that last night with absolutely nothing to do, when one of the crew called me over to the starboard railing to look at what he said was a shark. I had seen dolphins and whales a plenty on several trips, but never a shark. The sneaky bastards were always just below the surface, out of my eyesight.
However, this one was not. It was on the surface lazily moving through the calm sunset seas. Its dorsal fin was tall and triangular. A distance behind the caudal swung back and forth in the sea. It was a sizable shark. Something was off though; the dorsal fin was flimsy. Rather than being the resolute dagger breaking the water to bring fear to all who saw Jaws, the fin flopped around in the wind more like a sail than a terror of the sea would have.
This shark wasn’t alone, I soon picked out one behind our vessel and others near the original. An entire school of sharks were soon visible. They were basking sharks. Large sharks to be sure, but only terrors to plankton. They sail through the water, mouths jaws agape, to filter the water and swallow the microscopic bounty the sea offers. And our ship just sailed into a school of them. There were even four that swam next to the hall of the ship. Sadly, this happened before I had a chance to grab my camera.
Soon we also heard and saw flocks of pelagic bird diving into or just above the seas waves to collect their prey as well. A pod of whales soon appeared as well, near the ship and just along the horizon. There was a buffet of plankton awaiting these hunters. For me, it was the perfect last day from a long cruise of 18-hour days, and I got a nice picture of lazy basking shark’s dorsal fin in the glow of the setting sun.
That was a good day.
© 2016 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.