It happened to me
It's Behind You
Mark Russell, a former Red Sea dive guide, discovers that you never know what's lurking out in the blue
In September of 2009, not long after I had started working in Sharm, I was conducting a dive at the world-famous Shark and Yolanda reef. Although I had been there a few times before and knew where I should be going, I was still a bit new to the area and learning my way around the dive sites as a guide.
As I remember, the dive itself was nothing special – very beautiful, yes, but also very busy, and so most of the wildlife was hiding away from the divers. I was guiding a group of four German guys, and we were finishing our dive around the back of the fringing reef past Baby Yolanda. I signalled for the safety stop and my four divers obediently ascended to 5m while I deployed my delayed surface marker buoy.
Our three minutes of safety stop passed, no worries, and so I signalled that we should ascend. ‘OK’, ‘OK’, ‘OK’, ‘OK’ my four divers signalled to me. But when we hit the surface, I realised one of the divers was still underwater, looking through the lens of his camera and waving at me frantically before inexplicably swimming off into the blue – or green, as it was that day – for no apparent reason.
I was already at the surface and could see the boat was approaching on a bearing that matched the exact location of his head. I banged as hard as I could on my tank and waved my hands around in an attempt to inform him by hand signals that the boat was coming and about to decapitate him (I don’t believe there is an internationally recognised signal for this) and that he should get back here now, this instant. The signals didn’t work, but the speeding hull of the boat passing mere inches (okay, several metres, actually) in front of his face jolted him back to reality and we surfaced without further incident.
Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with his performance and attempted to explain to him, in a professional manner, that I had no wish to haul his headless torso onto the dive platform, so please would he not do that again. Suddenly he blurted out 'There’s a shark behind you!'
We were still at the surface waiting to be picked up so I had a quick dunk and looked around. Needless to say, there was no shark.
But after we had de-kitted back on the boat and had begun the post-dive chat, Mr Lucky-To-Still-Have-His-Head waved me over and showed me the photograph he had taken moments before he began his borderline-suicidal sprint into the blue (or green). It’s a photo of me.
There I am, pictured swinging from my SMB at the surface with all the poise of a gazelle walking through a room full of marbles, my left arm pointing directly at the diver just before I give him an 'up' signal, and behind me….
…is two-and-a-half metres of Carcharhinus longimanus - an oceanic white-tip shark.
Okay, maybe it was only two metres. I don’t know – I never saw it. One of the ocean’s apex predators had passed within inches of my flailing fins and I knew exactly nothing about it.
Despite having been in such close proximity to the creature, I have never actually seen an oceanic white-tip. What makes that sole encounter so especially galling is that the photo was of the second time the shark had passed close behind me… and I hadn’t seen it the first time, either.
Did I learn a lesson? Well, I’ve never made a safety stop with my back to the blue since that day! I also wonder what else had passed me by when I was so very focused on that nudibranch…•