Friend or foe?
The distinct shape of an old hull was visible. I snorkeled around it in 78-degree water. Before summer rains cloud the water, visibility is excellent, as it was this day just south of Matlacha Pass in Pine Island Sound. As I concentrated on the exposed wooden ribs and stringers, I looked for marine life and observed moon jellyfish, whelk egg casings, fighting conch, horseshoe crabs and immature scallops.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a huge shadow flowing across the bottom: a shark. Scenes from “Jaws” ran through my mind as I watched the undulating and methodic movement of this huge prehistoric predator. Imagination is reality, so this thing coming toward me looked to be 20 feet long, with death-seeking eyes, backed up by rows and rows of razor-sharp teeth. In reality, this was a common 6-foot nurse shark — basically harmless, unless provoked.
The international shark attack database contributes only about 7 percent to nurse shark attacks in Florida. The highest is the blacktip shark with about 20 percent of the overall attacks in Florida. Nurse sharks are generally nocturnal and can be identified by their whiskers and barbels. The origin of the name “nurse shark” is unclear, but it may come from the sucking sound it makes as it feeds, or it may be derived from the archaic word “nusse,” meaning cat shark. I watched the creature circle once about 3 feet away. I wanted to reach out and touch the skin of this gentle-looking machine. But the words “if provoked” kept me away.
This encounter seemed to last 10 minutes. In reality, it was about one.
In my younger — more physically fit — days, I would be comfortable free diving for lobster in 20 feet of water, holding my breath for a minute and a half. In the 1970s Bahamas, I would jump overboard holding the anchor and use the weight to get to the bottom. After setting the anchor, I used propelled spear to get fish. Those were fun days.
To be continued... Fair winds, calm seas. ¦
— Capt. Dennis Kirk is part owner of the Nav- A- Gator, a riverfront restaurant and marina in Lake Suzy, just off Kings Highway. For more information, call 627- 3474.