Position 15 57.8S / 145 52.1W
Here in the Tuamotus, the local people do not measure a shark by the overall length but rather describe the girth of the shark's chest as an indicator of size. I knew the girth of this particularly large Grey Reef shark intimately as I stared directly at it advancing toward me in an aggressive and menacing manor. Just before it reached me, it veered off flashing an arched back (indicating aggression) as it swam around for another pass where it again approached me head on. "GET OUT OF THE WATER!" I yelled to Hyo as I swam rapidly towards the dinghy! That was the second time in less than 24 hours that a large Grey Reef shark (the notably more aggressive of the common local species) has forced me out of the water. The previous night I had been spear fishing near the boat where we were anchored near the Toau Pass. I had speared a large Bumphead parrot fish (Scarus perrico) and unfortunately it had gotten off my spear, and had bled profusely as it swam to a small coral head. I reloaded my spear and my lungs and had just submerged to descend the 25 feet and finish the job when the 6-foot long barrel-chested (large girth) Gray shark arrived on the scene. I aborted and called "GET OUT OF THE WATER" to Hyo and by the time I had gotten back to IO, a mere 40 feet away I saw several Black Tips and the large Grey circling the coral head.
Now this second scenario was fine and justified in my mind and fit my rationale as a biologist and fisherman. Remember that I had swam and SCUBA dove with over 200 hundred of Gray Reef sharks in the Fakarava pass. This time, I speared a fish near the pass (where most Gray Reef sharks hang out during the day) where the possibility of bringing in sharks that are conditioned to the sound of the spear gun is high. It was a large Parrot fish and the unfortunate gut-shot had incurred a lot of blood loss, so justifiably I was not surprised at the sharks arriving so quickly. Nor was I surprised at their searching behavior and disinterest of me. But, still best to get out of the water in a calm and controlled manner.
What bothers me about the first account is that we were not spear fishing or otherwise doing anything that we have not done before. We had taken the dinghy out to snorkel the pass during the incoming flood tide. We had seen another boat do the same on the previous day. In fact, they had floated it twice and told us that it was good and noted how many sharks there were. So when we got in the water and within a mere 30 seconds I was being confronted by this aggressive Gray Reef shark, I was admittedly surprised! For the record, I would NOT describe my reaction to be near or in the order of true panic, but I was fast, reactive and perhaps a bit hasty! I was back in the dinghy faster than I have ever been and my heart was racing! Upon reflection I should have stayed in the water near the dinghy and watched the sharks' behavior in a calm and perhaps more aggressive manner on my part.
This incident has made me feel a bit sheepish as I have now said to many many cruisers (now being well known as the local marine biologist!) that "the local sharks are harmless as long as you pay attention to their behavior and are not spear fishing or doing other things that might provoke them". We did move further south into the atoll and I have been spear fishing since then with no sharks being drawn in.
We had the incredible experience of meeting two local teenagers that love fishing. After working hard at their copra (dried coconut meat) farms all day, they still set out at night to go fishing and lobster hunting. Dressed for the kill in a one-piece wetsuit and with open rain barrels strapped on their backs, they carried ultra bright white-kerosene lanterns. These skilled boys taught us how to collect lobsters on the outer reef at night and introduced me to "machete fishing" which is ridiculously fun and productive. Basically, while you are looking for lobsters, many of the reef fish are sleeping in small tide pools and you get to whack them in the head with your machete as you plod along the reef in the dark. Pure fun!
Finally, I have also fulfilled another one of my life long goals in that we have hunted and now eaten (only one) a Coconut Crab (Birgus latro). It is related to a hermit crab but does not use a gastropod shell. This large (can be over 9 lbs) land crab makes its living by eating coconuts which it can open and crush with its huge and remarkably tasty claws. It also has been touted as being the fattiest of all crustaceans (hence super tasty) which is no doubt due to eating the fatty coconuts. Admittedly, the velvety ant-like abdomen is not its best feature - actually quite gross in appearance. This abdomen is supposed to contain the bulk of the oil/fat that when done properly, supplies the dipping sauce for the meat and is reported to be heavenly in taste. Unfortunately we have not learned the proper way of cooking them over a fire and our attempt at boiling the sucker resulted in beige goo-juice exploding out of its abdomen which immediately abolished our appetites.
So currently we are the only boat within sight, our life is great, even if it's a bit sharky and a little carnal.