Day 4 – Shark bait!

Part 4 of the Liveaboard Series –  Aug 14, 2016 – Little Brother Island

I felt a slight tap on my head near the end of the second dive on Little Brother Island. Oh, it must be my diving buddy letting me know that another shark was sighted. I looked over….Nope! It wasn’t my buddy! It was the shark itself. A shark that just headbutted me before continuing its swim forward.

Like Big Brother, Little Brother is known for challenging currents, gorgeous wall dives, a cleaning station for pelagic sharks and mantas that spend most of their lives in the wide open blue except for occasional stops in these remote, steep slopes, and of course, all sorts of sharks. On the first dive, we quickly descending to get out of the crashing surf overhead and the current that furiously split along the island, descending about 30m in 2 minutes to get to a little semi-protected plateau where the sharks come. The conditions are tough but the splitting of the current on the steep point of the island is why the sharks come here. While the current makes it tough for us divers to get into the right spot and stay in that spot, it also brings nutrients for all the life from the coral, the small fishes that live in the coral that attract the bigger fishes from the edge of the blue such as traveli and tuna… which then attract the sharks. Today on our first dive, we were rewarded with our persistence with four or five Grey Reef sharks circling the cleaning station…and us! We were able to watch one open its big mouth for cleaner fish to duck inside and clean.

However, this little plateau is deep – we were hovering above it at around 35m and we couldn’t stay at that depth for long. We continued along the eastern wall of the island, fighting the current but was in the morning sun. The first dive was at 5:30am. There was lots to look at from the soft coral swaying in the water on the steep wall, the clouds of small orange damsel fish, larger delicate banner fish and butterfly fish, the colourful but big fanged and territorial titian trigger fish and lots more. Looking out in the direction of the open blue ocean, there were pelagic fish like tunas, travelis and jacks. Looking up into the blue were long and ferocious looking barracudas.

With the fight against the current, I was quickly running low in air. However, I was not the only one and the dive master deployed the SMB, a bright orange long pocket that he fills with air and it shoots up to the surface so the zodiacs know where to pick us up.

Our first dive at Little Brother passed this amazing and huge coral formation, which apparently looks like a cauliflower

Our first dive at Little Brother passed this amazing and huge coral formation, which apparently looks like a cauliflower

The second dive of the day, we decided to go back to the cleaning station again and again it was a hard descent straight down to the plateau. However, once we were there, we were rewarded with a Thresher shark swimming back and forth and we watched it for about 8 minutes. With deep dives, divers get a little high on nitrogen, a condition that is called nitrogen narcosis. Time seems to loose meaning, mental processes slow, and I can get fascinated by little things and become almost hypnotized by it. It is worst on second deep dives as there is still residual nitrogen in the body from the first dive. This time, I was mesmerized by the long whip-like tail of the Thresher shark as it swam back and forth, back and forth. I was told that we were down there for about 8 minutes but honestly, to me, it felt like I lived an eternity watching that shark. As we were watching the Thresher shark, a Grey Reef shark snuck up on us from behind and swam right by us!

Wall dives can be dangerous because there is no definite point of reference on metre level so it is easy to float down towards what I’m looking at. I looked at my dive computer. We were pretty deep; it was time to ascend a little. I signaled my diving buddy that I’m going up and just like flying, I floated up about 5m to get to about 30m.

However, even though this cleaning station experience was amazing, it was not the most amazing part of the dive. We continued along the west wall of the island this time until we reached our boat. Underneath the boat, about three Oceanic Whitetips had gathered and was lazily swimming about. We floated in the shallow water, between 5-10m where our air lasts a long time, and watched these majestic creatures. Oceanic Whitetips look a little like torpedos with a rounded dorsal fin tipped with white and the two lateral fins pointing down in a triangle angle. Half a dozen pilot fish swam below and beside each shark. They got pretty close at times, such as the bump on my head at the beginning of this write-up.

Oceanic whitetip shark in the blue

Oceanic whitetip shark in the blue

I was getting pretty low in air now so it was time to get out of the water. However, now there were three sharks circling under the boat and sharks are surface feeders. I stay below and watch the sharks for a little bit longer and then make a quick escape out of the water with my heavy gear and onto the boat. Phewf! Safe for now!

Two other people had similar close encounters including another Asian woman. We thought they might have been curious about our hair. However, this doesn’t really explain why they bumped the German man’s camera but it made for great footage. We started joking that we were shark bait, something that would continue for the next dive.

Our third dive dropped down to 30.4m at one point but generally, we didn’t stay deep. Instead we went around the south point of the island, passing by completely different coral gardens. First was a slope of gorgeous Gorgonas, fan corals, then it changed into soft corals and then finally into hard table corals. We must have swam about two-thirds all the way around the small island on this dive. We swam away from the crashing reef to signal the zodiac to pick us up. Two by two, our diving group ascended and jumped into the boat. When it is my buddy and I’s turn, we went up and jumped into the boat. Only after we just got into the zodiac, we saw a Oceanic Whitetip shallowly circling our boat! While I didn’t actually see the shark while I was in the water, apparently the shark saw me. As we were ascending, the shark started circling us. One of the other divers got a video of the shark circling as our legs kicked in the water while we were holding onto the zodiac and passing in the weight belt and then the BCD (bouyancy control device – a diving vest that we fill with air to be our air bladders and where the tank attaches onto).

The remaining pair of divers plus the divemaster jumps onto the boat quicker than I could imagine was possible. There has only been one Oceanic Whitetip attack on a person in Egypt and it was because they were baiting the sharks for snorkelers – all in all a terrible idea. While we respect they can be dangerous animals and try not to spend a lot of time on the surface where it could signal their feeding instincts, the species of sharks we encounter on this trip are generally fine and actually kind of curious as long as we are not threatening. Afterall, dogs can bite but most often, they don’t.

I thought diving three dives each day would be a lot but our lives get into a rhythm. After nine dives in three days, I can’t wait until tomorrow for more diving!

Epic wall dives on Little Brother Island

Epic wall dives on Little Brother Island

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