Swimming with Sharks

Swimming with Sharks

By Kristen Hand, CPA

It’s a sunny, warm Tuesday afternoon and I’m sitting on my front porch working on my laptop, while watching my daughter play in the front yard. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned my life upside down these past three months – I haven’t been to the office except to pick up a few necessities, and I’ve had to balance working from home while simultaneously homeschooling my kindergartener. I’ve learned a few things over the last few months: teachers are saints, math is a lot more confusing than I remember, the English language is extraordinarily complex to teach, and it’s almost impossible to have a video conference without your five-year-old interrupting. After a busy season full of new Rural Development audit guide changes and accounting changes, and three months of homeschooling, I am ready for a kid-free vacation. However, I’m left reminiscing about my last vacation and adventure… and today, I’m specifically recalling another Tuesday, one that had me in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico preparing to check something off of my bucket list – swimming with sharks.

How swimming with sharks made its way to my bucket list is a long story, and few knew about it until I booked my adventure. I was often met with shock and disbelief when people heard about my plans. My husband was one of many who thought I was crazy for wanting to do this, and since we were traveling with our daughter, we decided I would I set out on my own for the adventure of a lifetime. I met the captain and crew, along with five other adventurous souls, at the designated marina before boating 45 minutes offshore to the crew’s favorite spot. The crew warned us that as pelagic animals, they couldn’t guarantee we would find sharks, and it could be 15 minutes to two hours for the chum line to attract them. While we waited with bated breath to hear the infamous Jaws theme song, the crew briefed us on proper protocol:

  • Stay to the right of the chum line
  • Keep our eyes on the sharks – don’t set your eyes down or look around
  • Float on the surface – if you are moving your fins in order to stay upright, you could appear to be shark food
  • Any Go-Pro cameras need to be on an extendable stick, because Mako sharks love electronic equipment

About an hour and 15 minutes after we started chumming, a shark finally hit the chum line and the crew immediately identified it as a Silky shark. There were three, ranging in lengths from 6-8 feet. Everyone zipped up their wet suits (not because the water was cold, but because there could be jellyfish) and donned their fins, masks and snorkels. The two lead crew members jumped in the water to observe the behavior of the sharks before giving us the all clear to enter the water. I was the third person in the water and carefully swam out to the line we were instructed to stay behind.

Seeing sharks a few feet from you in the water isn’t something that can easily be described. I marveled at how serenely and effortlessly they glided through the water. Hearing nothing but the sound of my breathing and seeing nothing but water and sharks, I was immersed in a different world. I watched, enchanted at how the sharks swam in tandem, and the way the pilot fish moved in perfect synchronization. The entire experience, then and now, seemed so surreal. I had been calm and excited about this excursion in the months prior, but assumed once I saw the sharks in the water next to the boat my nerves would get the best of me. However, I never once felt nervous or scared – I was as calm as if I was seeing them through aquarium glass – and felt at peace.

The only downside of an otherwise perfect day was how rough the seas were. The 4-6 feet swells made it difficult to stay in the water for an extended period of time as the rope we were holding was constantly pulled in and swept out. After 10 minutes, everyone had grown tired of being thrown around, and climbed back onto the boat.

If the day hadn’t been incredible enough, as we headed back to shore, we were greeted by a delightful, smile-inducing animal in the channel. A sea lion took the liberty of jumping onto the back of the boat (while we were moving) to beg for the fish he could smell from the chum. As he made us laugh, he was offered quite a bit, but was very picky with what he would accept. He would smell the offering and then turn his head away if he didn’t approve.  After a few minutes, he jumped off our boat, and swam to an inbound fishing boat.

As I reflect on that day, I can’t help but smile – it’s not one I’ll ever be able to forget. Would I recommend swimming with sharks? Absolutely. Will I swim with sharks again? Most definitely. Now that people have been homeschooling their kids for the last three months, would they be more willing to try it? Most likely.