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Swimming with Sharks

January 16, 2020

NEU/BIO 675: Biodiversity, Brains, and Behavior

January 14, 2020

Yeah, you read that right - I went swimming with sharks! And I have the shark tooth to prove it.

We had an early start to our day - we went to breakfast a little earlier than usual and loaded up on the boat at 7:45am instead of our usual 8:15am. We had about an hour ride on the boat to a different part of the island of Roatan. This place wasn’t a part of CoCo View, but they’ve teamed up with the crew here at CoCo View to provide an immersive experience for the tourists and students that come to Roatan. Once we got there, the boat tied to the mooring line, and one by one, all of the divers jumped off of the boat, grabbed onto the rope, and began the descent to about 75 feet underwater. As I worked my way down the rope, I saw a shark or two swimming beneath me - they knew it was breakfast time, but they weren’t interested in eating any divers. Once we reached the bottom of the rope, we saw a small sand clearing where it was okay for us to sit or stand and await further instruction. This is when all the grouper fish and sharks began to gather. The grouper fish were very friendly - one came and swam right next to me and parked there for a few minutes, but I didn’t even see him at first! I moved backwards in the sand and almost sat on him! The fish and the sharks circled right in front of us, not at all disturbed by our presence. Our dive master give the signal that it was okay for us to swim around, so we all lifted off the bottom of the ocean and proceeded to paddle around. I can’t even explain how exhilarating it was! The sharks were anywhere from 5-10 feet long and are very used to divers coming and visiting them. As we paddled around with them, they would swim right up next to us, right towards our faces, or even bump up against us! After a few minutes of this, the dive master signaled for us to go back to the sand clearing, and we all assumed positions again. He remained in the middle of the circle of sharks, holding a bucket of “chum”, or fish scraps”, to feed the sharks with. The sharks smelled the fish and began to circle him closer and closer, getting more and more excited for their snack. The dive master loosened the lid of the bucket and backed away, and the sharks closed in on the bucket. They bumped it with their noses and knocked it over in an attempt to get the fish inside, and in about a minute or so, they succeeded in doing so. They rapidly ate whatever chum they could, dashing around and jockeying for the position closest to the bucket. After all the chum was eaten, the sharks started to swim away. One or two hung around and watched us, but the rest had gotten their meal and were ready to continue on their day. The dive master signaled to us that it was safe to swim around again, and we rushed away from the sand clearing in an attempt to find any teeth that the sharks had lost during the feeding. Lo and behold, I got one! The shark tooth is coming home with me, and is such a meaningful token of the time I spent with these gentle giants.

-Rachel Harvey ’22

 

This morning we woke up and were at breakfast at 7am. Our boat left the dock at 8 and it was about a 45 minute ride to the shop we do our shark dive out of. It was raining off and on and the seas were very rough.

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The ride was fun but I had no idea how amazing the shark dive would be. We got a briefing on the dive by the divemaster and got back on the boat to get suited up and head to the dive spot. Right after jumping in the water and starting our descent I could see Caribbean reef sharks circling the reef below us. There were also a few giant groupers in addition to the 10 or so sharks. When we all were safely at depth, the divemaster gave us the sign that it was okay to go swim around the reef. We were swimming with these apex predators and they couldn’t care less about it being about them.

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They were passing right by us and brushing against our legs. When I was kneeling in the sand a grouper also came up right by me and stayed next to my leg for a long time. The feeding frenzy was getting ready to start so we backed against the coral wall. The divemaster opened the bucket and the sharks were only focused on that. It was over in about 45 seconds. I never felt unsafe; in fact I was completely calm and serene.

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These creatures get such a bad reputation but they are so graceful and gentle. After the dive was over we got back on board our boat and went back to the dive shop. The ride back to CoCo View was just as rough and long. Once we were back we broke for lunch and got ready for our afternoon dive. The afternoon dive took up to another wall that is known to have lots of schooling fish around. It was one of my favorite dives because much like the sharks, these fish were not afraid of us. At one point I was hovering over the wall and I turn and giant school of spade fish swim right at me. They surround me and swim up against my fins, passing me as if I weren’t there. It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve had. It puts into perspective that we are not the center of the universe, and the fish swimming around me couldn’t care less about what I am or am not doing. We took a break for an hour before going out for a night dive before dinner. This dive was very different because it was a shore dive, compared to our other boat dives. This means instead of gearing up on our boat and jumping off at a location, we walked with our gear on into the ocean to dive in the front yard of CoCo View. Everyone was a little nervous to do this dive because it was dark and the only source of light was our flashlights. It was fun overall, but not my most favorite dive on the trip.

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After dinner we were so grateful for the opportunity to see a group of local children and kids perform traditional Honduran dances. It was so amazing to see them perform and show us a small part of their culture. The night concluded with drinks, hanging out, and lots of relaxation. 

-Annemarie Seth ’21

 


About the Honduras Study Tour

THE TRAVEL DATES

Jan. 11-23, 2020

THE INSTRUCTORS

Biology Prof. Scott Hegrenes 

Sociology Prof. Bill Miller 

Neuroscience Prof. Dan Miller

AN INTRO

In this course, students will be able to study the diverse ecology of a Caribbean coral reef, while learning about the evolution of neurobiology of marine life to humans. Students will have the opportunity to be scuba-certified before diving in to explore the tropical reefs. They will get first hand experience of what Honduran culture is like during their stay, explore the Copan ruins, an archaeological site of the Maya civilizations, and visit the island of Roatan.

Writer

Rachel Harvey ’22, Annemarie Seth ’21