Shark!! (And A Dang Good Grouper, Too)
This is really a story about my friend Mark Cole and his willingness to put himself between a shark and me while spear fishing in the Ragged Islands. I’ll let Mark, in his own words, tell the story, but first a bit of background.
I’m new to Spear Fishing. Oh sure, I’ve carried around a pole spear from time to time when snorkeling the Bahamas reefs, but I’ve never really learned to spear fish. My friend Mark Cole (Manta 40ish “Reach”) has been spear fishing for years and has been kind enough to teach me how to hunt for fish with a spear.
The other day, we were working our way around the reefs on the North side of Raccoon Cay, not having much luck. Michelle was with us, as dinghy driver, at the ready to help get a fish on the boat, if necessary. On one reef, we were stalking a threesome of nice Tiger Groupers, waiting for them to make a mistake. Mark saw a Bull Shark that he said was being a bit persistent, so we abandoned the Tigers and moved on.
We dropped in on a few other spots with not much luck. As we worked our way back around the west end of the island, we found a cluster of small coral heads that looked interesting so we dropped in. As usual, Mark went around off in one direction and I went around the other way. As we cover an area, we usually end up back in the middle. As we came back together, Mark climbed up in the boat and I handed up my spear up, getting ready to climb aboard. Just before I did my normal “Lunge” up in to the boat, I happened to notice a couple of nice Grouper swimming past. I grabbed my spear and headed after them. The largest of the two ducked in to a hole in the reef, but it didn’t really fit him. I could see a portion of his body through the hole, so I took a shot and got him.
Now, here’s where I learned the first new lesson about Grouper. Grouper, have an uncanny ability to open their gills, wedging them against a cave wall to keep you from just pulling them out. This guy was wedged in so tight that I couldn’t pull him out. Out of breath, I abandoned my spear and head up for some air. Michelle and Mark were watching from just above me, so when I explained the situation, Mark jumped in to help me pry the sucker out.
Here’s another thing I learned about Grouper, when injured or threatened, they make a grunting sound that sounds something like a pig’s grunt. And the grunt is very loud under water.
Mark and I took turns down 12-15 feet to the reef where the fish was lodged, trying to convince him to come to dinner. After about 20 minutes, of working on him, Mark ALMOST had him out. As he was running out of breath, the spear ripped out of the fish, but I was there to continue the fight, grabbed the fish’s tail and continued working on getting the gills tight against the fish, so I could pull him out. I knew that without the spear to hold him, this was my last chance to claim my prize, so I was totally focused on getting him on this last try.
That’s when Mark first saw the shark. In his words (borrowed from an earlier facebook post):
“Clark shot a big ol’ grouper that holed up in a tiny hole and gill-locked. We spent 15-20 minutes trying to work it back out, with it grunting and bleeding. Wasn’t thinking about that last part at the time…
He was down there with it almost extracted when I saw a 7′ bull shark going for him like a bullet. I dropped down between him and the shark hoping to gain Clark a bit of time. The shark came right up to me, turned and went the other way, so I went up for some air. Took a breath, looked down, and the shark was 2′ from me coming straight up at me. Hit me in the middle and threw me out of the water. I landed on my back with the shark on top of me thrashing about.
Since I was staring at his pointy mouth, I decided I wanted to be on the other side of him, so I hugged it and rolled over it. Now I was riding on its back instead of having my head in its mouth. That quickly got old, so I let go and he swam back down and away. Then headed toward Clark again. The shark broke one of my fin blades, so I got into the dinghy and we were yelling for Clark, who still hadn’t seen the shark. Finally, as he was coming to the dinghy, he saw it and tossed me the grouper. Nobody can catch a grouper, so it slipped out of my hands and started to sink down to the shark. Somehow the shark missed the fish, but Clark got into the dinghy and the fish floated to the surface right over to him. It was Clark’s fish and nothing was going to take it away – he plucked it out and we left a frustrated shark.”
Thanks Mark! I’m not sure if you saved my life, but you almost certainly saved me from a nasty bite. And a huge thanks to Michelle as well for volunteering to stay on the dinghy and follow us around. We could have easily been 100+ yards away from an anchored dinghy with a big, mad shark!
From Michelle’s perspective on the boat, here are her comments:
“I didn’t know there was anything wrong until Mark came to the surface, yelling ‘SHARK’ through his snorkel, as he tried to get Clark’s attention. Within seconds, Mark was out of the water, with a huge shark pushing him at his chest. The shark came lunging out of the water and the two were belly to belly. I thought for sure that the shark was biting Mark, but then he was able to roll over and hug the shark’s back before letting go and the shark swam quickly away. ”
It all happened so fast and there are no pictures from the actual attack, but here are a few pre and post pictures.