Mike Mongo reveals the worlds of marine, shoreline, and in-land eco-biology

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

8-foot Hammerhead at Eastern Dry Rocks, Key West, FL


The most amazing thing about this short footage is not that I swim within five feet of this 8-foot hammerhead shark; it's that this was recorded at the reef, about seven miles SW of Key West, and was the first of its kind that had been seen there by myself or any member of the crew on the boat: 29 years cumulative experience in this area!

Now, I know most people might think swimming in the water with a shark of this size is a crazy (much less swimming down twenty feet to swim at its side), but for me it was bliss.

So what happened was this: Out at the reef here off of Key West, a great hammerhead showed up. As a local, I was just there catching a lift with one of the public charter boats for a quick snorkel on a perfect Saturday morning. As it is, I picked the right day, I guess.

There were about 80 people in the water and 20 on the big catamaran when this big shark made its appearance. Then I calmly called up to the captain, "There's an eight foot hammerhead right here!" Sticking my head back in the water, I heard someone yell, "Shark!!!" I was later told that the numbers reversed in an instant.

By luck, the hammerhead swam right next to the port side of the boat and everyone could see the shark in contrast to me from the boat, and it dwarfed me.

To me, sharks are majestic. Just look at how it moves! My heart was racing, I tell you, not pounding, racing. It was honestly better than sex. It was that good.

I had to consciously think to relax. What I was experiencing—the excitement!—is what gets sharks interested! (As a species, they have developed a sensitivity to racing hearts and increased electrical activity.) My first thought was disbelief. My second thought was that I was as happy as a little kid and that even while snorkeling I had a goofy grin that just would not quit. It was that good.

Aside from my buddy Pete, whose last day town it was and was why we went out when we did, the person I have to thank the most is the boat's captain, Wesley. As captain of the snorkel charter boat I was on that day, he saw the whole thing taking place, and he kept everyone's cool and watched over everything else. His actions insured that the experience I had was world-class. When I got back on his boat, he was so excited for me - "I wanted to jump right in with you but I knew it would scare it away!" - that I knew that I owed his a share of gratitude. As I said, from the deck of the big boat, the size of the shark could clearly be seen in contrast beneath and besides my meager 6 1/2 feet. The shark was big enough to wrap my arms around. But it was Wesley's professionalism that made the day.

Now, the shark was heading away from the boat, and the current was heading that way, as well. Soon I realized I was heading out to deeper water (30ft and deepening). It was now or never. That's when I dove down to swim besides the hammerhead.

As I did, I looked at the video camera, studied the display counter and prayed, "Be recording this. Please be recording this."

And thankfully it was.

The hammerhead definitely knew I was there. It glanced at me catching my eye once and gave me the once-over, but it was non-threatening. I never once felt threatened. Next to it, I felt natural.

In fact, the only time I felt any trepidation was heading back to the boat. Swimming backwards against the current with the large shark now out of sight, that's when I got a slight chill. Just out of alertness while swimming backwards, I did keep my eyes open on my way back on-board, where an adventurer's welcome awaited.

1 comment:

Belleocchio said...

thats amazing.. glad to see that you find it natural. sharks are beautiful and so misconceived.. thanks for sharing. joanna