Fumi-Balls: Diving with Bull Sharks in the Riviera Maya

I met up with my friends and dive instructor to go scuba diving off Cozumel to go see the reefs. The drive is about an hour away so we hopped into the car and were speeding down the highway when Damian, our dive instructor got the call: because of wind conditions, the port was closed and the dive, canceled.

We had just turned around, on our way back to Cancun, when Damian had an idea: do you want to go shark diving?

Just two minutes prior, I had told the others that I would shit purple Twinkies if I were to go shark diving.

Everyone else was excited.

I just pooped my first purple Twinkie.

Who wants to go? Me! Me! And me! And then in unison, I just felt those stares turn to me. They were understanding of my hesitation but deep down, I knew that if I were in their shoes and wanted to go and do that, I would have hated if a person like me to have said “hell no.”

So we turned the car around again and sped off to the dive center.


The view of Cozumel from the Dive Balam dive shop on the Riviera Maya

It was a fantastically brilliant day and the sun threw sparkled diamonds over the water. I thought long and hard about what I was about to do as I stared at the sea. They are animals, just like us. Just like a bull in a ring. How fitting it was, then, to be getting into the “ring” with a bull shark. They are sensitive to movement and I need to be calm.

On the boat, I began to feel queasy. I kept taking sips of Powerade as we rode down the coastline to the dive spot. It was a line descent so we would take hold of a rope down to the bottom, just 45 feet down. Grappling the rope to the buoy, Damian looked down and remarked that he had seen one. I put my face in the water and sure enough, with amazingly clear visibility, I could see the outline of a lone shark swagger out of sight.

Dami asked me if I was alright. I had to take my regulator out of my mouth and breathe slowly. How the fuck am I supposed to be alright if I didn’t even think I was going to do this today? I think I had a sausage-linked line of purple Twinkies coming out of the neck of my wetsuit. I slowed my breathing and responded that I was. He knew better.

As I equalized on my descent, he kept asking me if I was alright.

We got to the ocean floor and because the current was strong, we were to lay as close to the ground as possible on our bellies. About 5 meters away, Marco, the fish feeder, had on chain mail and a helmet, and held the canister of cut-up fish in between his legs. Soon they appeared and I felt Dami’s grip on my arm as I turned my head and saw them.

There were six, all roughly about 3 meters long. Thick torsos and I could see the scales on their skin shimmer slightly as they moved. Marco would hold a piece of fish up and would have them eat out of his hand as he gently caressed them. I couldn’t see their teeth and they reminded me of an old granny who didn’t have her dentures on her. It was only when they would eat that you could see the teeth unfurl and pop forward to grip the food.

I saw some with scars on their bodies, battle scars. I began to see distinctive differences between different ones and even what looked like sun spots on one.

And I started to tremble. But not from fear. I was fucking cold. When you dive, you are normally in motion and we were lying very still on the ocean floor. My temperature had dropped and now it wasn’t a question of whether I was scared or not: I was more interested in keeping warm. Gaby was lying right next to me but her leg was on top of mine. I found out later that it was because she too was also cold and felt the warmth of my leg very comforting.

There was even a moment when I thought of “Finding Nemo”. There was a frame where the shark looked menacingly at Marlin. That’s how a shark looks when it’s swimming at you head-on. But it was actually pretty beautiful and definitely not the evil caricature that had been always painted. I began to think how could anyone think they were that dangerous. That is how impressive they are.

As they grew comfortable with our presence, the group grew to about 13 sharks and they swam closer and closer to us, passing nearly a meter away. I could see the color of their eyes. Bull sharks have this yellow color that is slightly tinged with green. The pupils looked like goat eyes, long vertical bands down the center. According to Mike Rudson, the Sharkman of South Africa, he called the color of Great White Shark’s eyes as “the color of the bluest sea” and not the evil black eyes that people have often described them as having.

Humans are not part of a shark’s meal plan. They only bite because they are curious to see if we are and they spit us out when they realize we taste like absolute shit. They bite because they don’t have hands to pick up something and figure out what it is.

Our air was getting low so for security reasons (just in case someone panicked), we got in a circle and as we held each other by the vest, our group slowly kicked upwards to the surface. A shark or two followed us up and circled about us lazily. I kept losing Jocelyn’s vest because she kept turning to see where they had gone.

Oh sweetheart, they are right behind you. But they are so not interested in eating you.

In the boat, we were comparing notes. We all came to a consensus that bull sharks really got a very bad and completely unfounded rap.

DISCLAIMER: I would like to apologize for not having my own photos up but I don’t have a camera that can descend to 45 feet. Once I get my GoPro, it’s on like Donkey Kong!

If you want to do this dive, I completely recommend Dive Balam. Very professional and always were on top of things.


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