Of Sharks and Shadows

At first, we thought those shadows around our son in New Caledonia’s spectacular lagoon were rocks. Then we saw that some had fins! No need for alarm, though – these are small black-tipped reef sharks, more afraid of us than we are of them.

When we first set out on our Pacific crossing, the idea of sharks was terrifying. As time went by, however, we learned to put sharks in the same category as rogue waves or out-of-control eighteen-wheelers on the highway – horrible to imagine but incredibly unlikely. Generally, you’re safe swimming in reef-protected waters because the bigger, more dangerous sharks are ocean dwellers. Reef sharks pose little danger unless you’re spear-fishing, when it’s prudent to get out of the water or switch locations as soon as you land a fish.

We swam worry-free in anchorages throughout the Pacific with few exceptions. In the Marquesas, where there are no fringing reefs, a large shark fin appeared off the beach, stalking the children wading in ankle-deep water. Having said that, we swam in the same bay dozens of times to see the manta rays. In Australia, we rarely ventured in the water, out of deference to both jellyfish and sharks. Otherwise, we made the most of our South Pacific experience — swimming, snorkeling, and playing in the water to our hearts’ delight.

“Of Sharks and Shadows” originally appeared as an article in Cruising World Magazine’s October 2015 issue.