Photo: Fisherman returning to Ko Tarutao.

Trip reports forum

My first shark

Posted by greenman42 on 30/12/2009 at 23:12

After thirteen days in Thailand, two of which were spent in Bangkok and another travelling, I've been on Koh Samui for ten days without having gone snorkelling yet. For someone who plans to do my Divemasters on Koh Toa, this just won't do. This morning right after breakfast I decided it was time to get my fins wet, as I'm staying in Lamai with a view of the ocean, right on the edge of the bay. I took a walk down the concrete road, which turns into a gravel track, which turns into an eroded path, and made my way, with the assistance of a rope and a few branches, down to a secluded cove. The beach was less than 50m long and covered with broken coral, with two lines of rock going out to sea.

As I sat on the beach choosing an entry point, I started to get anxious. I'm not familiar with these waters and there was quite a bit of swell, although I've been out in much rougher water. Also, I saw fish jumping about 40m out, often they'll do this to try and escape a predator. I just sat watching the water for a long while, my anxiety rising, I don't often go out alone. After some time of seeing nothing unusual or frightening, I forced myself to stand up and don the mask and fins. There was no way I was chickening out of my first dive!

I chose to hug the rocks on the left as they jutted out of the ocean and I could see them better. Visibility was about eight meters, while not great, is good enough for some close up viewing. I made my way out slowly, following the rock wall. The coral shelf ended about 50m out, running parrallel to the shore, and dropped off from 3m to 6. I turned around and passed back over the corals, diving to get a closer look at the occasional angel or butterfly fish. I followed a clown fish back out along the wall, but lost him under a shelf. This was not the greatest snorkelling spot , but I was starting to enjoy myself out there.

Although I hadn't seen any, I thought there might be crayfish, there were certainly enough holes and overhangs for them to hide in. The thought that I might be able to bring one or two home for lunch was enough incentive for me to venture away from the rocks, and search the end of the reef. I'm not the greatest free diver, so 6m is about my limit on a single breath. I swam out, filled my lungs, and dived down the edge of the reef. The cave at the bottom seemed to run a long way, and I swam the few metres I could, checking under the shelf, no crays. I surfaced, breathing deeply, following the edge of the reef from above. Taking another deep breath, I dived again, finding another cave empty of bugs. Running out of air and heading for the surface, I saw something flash past me. It was grey, and big and close! Without even seeing it, my mind went SHARK, as if it had been waiting to think it! Sure enough, there behind me above the reef, was a 2.5m shark. My mind instantly flashed to a conversation I'd had with a friend two days before, about how I'm not really scared of sharks, especially in Thai waters. Turns out that was a load of rubbish. I was scared now!

I turned to track it, trying to recall everything I know about sharks. Species! Only some are dangerous to humans, what was this one? It had a light stripe running across its body, and black tipped fins. A Blacktipped Reefshark! Is that real shark, or is my mind just making up names? Is it dangerous? Dunno. Next worry is size, only a big shark will try and eat you. This one was as big as me, I had no doubt that he'd win in a fight. Behaviour? He was darting across the reef, turning back on himself sharply, and doing it again. Even I know enough about sharks to know that this was no well fed fish, he was a predator on a hunt.

In Scuba you're told the best place to be when you see a shark is on the bottom. If the shark bothers you, blow bubbles at it, bark at it and maybe punch it on the nose if it aggressive. Taking this advice I slowly descend, slowly because I know that splashing might attract its unwanted attention. At about three metres depth I realise that with no weightbelt, I'm going to have to fin down, and lose some air, I was just too bouyant to drop gently. Blowing out air and gently finning, I kept my eyes on the shark, still between me and the shore. Now with no air in my lungs, as I hadn't taken a big enough breath, I reach the seafloor, and realise what a stupid idea it was for me to try outlast a shark underwater. I started to ascend just as the shark turned and crossed the other side of me, out to deeper water. I lost track of him with the bad visibilty, but now my exit was open. I struck for shore, digging my fins deep so as not to splash, looking down past my body to ry and locate the shark, don't sharks circle their prey before they attack? Could there be more than one? I only saw one, but there might be more, don't some sharks hunt in groups? I was now on the reef the shark was hunting and panic set in. Not looking forward to see if my path was clear of rocks, I lost all sense of Good Shark Behaviour. I was splashing my fins with furious kicking, slapping my arms to the water, in a freestyle that turned into a desperate crawl when my hands touched the ground. Still not stopping, I swam until my chest touched sand, then jumping up, I backed out of the water.

On the beach I watched the sea, hoping to see some sign of the shark that had chased me out of the water, but nothing. Sitting there with an adrenalin headache and cramping calves, I felt a certain amount of shame, I really did think that I would handle my first shark sighting more smoothly than that. People dive with sharks all the time, children and old people do it. I'm an adventurous sort and want to be a diver, but nothing would have got me back in that water today.

While telling this story it was pointed out to me that a shark my size is not 2.5 to 3m long, its closer to 1.9m really, ok, so mine was less than 2m, but in the water it really did seem bigger! Also, online research reveals that while Black Tipped Reefsharks do exist, they only grow to about 1.8m and are not a big danger to divers. Good to know for next time.

#1 greenman42 has been a member since 18/9/2009. Posts: 63

Posted by Thaiman on 1/1/2010 at 14:13

Another interesting story Greenman.I would'nt of thought there would of been too many Sharks left in Thai waters as most would of been caught and eaten.But then I'm no expert.

#2 Thaiman has been a member since 12/11/2008. Posts: 201


Posted by somtam2000 on 2/1/2010 at 08:29 admin

Thanks for the write-up -- I've just put off my PADI course for another year ;-)

#3 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,568
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Posted by MADMAC on 2/1/2010 at 12:20

Great story and glad to see you made it back unscathed.

The moral of the story to me is when that little voice in the back of your head talks to you (in this case "I just sat watching the water for a long while, my anxiety rising, I don't often go out alone. After some time of seeing nothing unusual or frightening, I forced myself to stand up and don the mask and fins. There was no way I was chickening out of my first dive!"), listen to it. Certain activities I think are best done with a partner - maybe this would be one of them.

#4 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by dastott on 2/1/2010 at 21:56

Nice story. I would love to see a shark near Lamai. Can you tell me where you saw it? At the north end of Lamai or the south end (near the Grandmother/Grandmother rocks)?

Cheers.

#5 dastott has been a member since 29/4/2009. Posts: 14

Posted by greenman42 on 11/1/2010 at 18:09

Sorry for the late reply Dastott. I'm not sure how to describe where it was, but I'll try and direct you. If heading from Lamai along the main road towards Chaweng, pass The Buddy Hotel and The Spa, its a right turn just before the I.T. Centre, this is a big building of blue glass with a bright green lit pillar. The sign on the road is for the Rennaissance resory. Turn off the tar and on to the concrete road, go all the way past Rennaissance and a construction sight, up the hill and curve right. Follow past Cinnamon resort (right) and Silvadee (left). The road comes to an end, and you follow the track down to the beach.
Is it likely the shark will still be there? If you do make the trip let me know, I might want to join you. My number is 0860146285, although I don't often carry my phone around, but I'll check for messages.

#6 greenman42 has been a member since 18/9/2009. Posts: 63

Posted by greenman42 on 11/1/2010 at 18:10

Sorry for the late reply Dastott. I'm not sure how to describe where it was, but I'll try and direct you. If heading from Lamai along the main road towards Chaweng, pass The Buddy Hotel and The Spa, its a right turn just before the I.T. Centre, this is a big building of blue glass with a bright green lit pillar. The sign on the road is for the Rennaissance resory. Turn off the tar and on to the concrete road, go all the way past Rennaissance and a construction sight, up the hill and curve right. Follow past Cinnamon resort (right) and Silvadee (left). The road comes to an end, and you follow the track down to the beach.
Is it likely the shark will still be there? If you do make the trip let me know, I might want to join you. My number is 0860146285, although I don't often carry my phone around, but I'll check for messages.

#7 greenman42 has been a member since 18/9/2009. Posts: 63

Posted by Seba on 12/1/2010 at 00:54

nicely written! this reminds me of my stay on Phi Phi a month ago... it was the first time I went snorkeling in my life..; a Thai guy told me about Phi Phi's "Shark Point", I guess about 100m in front of Long Beach at the rocky formation there... I didn't believe him that they were so close to the shore (heck, never having snorkeled before, how should I know about reef sharks :) )..;so I went alone and enountered a Blacktip as well...quite scary but apparently there completely harmless

#8 Seba has been a member since 28/4/2009. Posts: 54

Posted by MADMAC on 15/1/2010 at 17:04

Seba
Sharks can actually swim very close to shore. When I was in Mogadischu, Somalia, we had a soldier get killed by a shark (shark bite sheared his leg off and he bled to death) in less than a 75 centimeters of water.

#9 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957


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