"A Shark's Smile"

by Dr. Erich K. Ritter

Reflections and Experiences of a Shark Researcher

about the author Dr. Erich Ritter       
ISBN 978-3-031309-09-1        

letzte Änderung: 03.01.2008
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35 Chapters of Shark research



The day's work is done and I'm driving out to a small group of steep rocks we call ‘Triangle Rock’. I am in Bimini, in the Bahamas. Today I've spent my time only within the building’s confining walls, poring over evaluations, and all I have seen of day light was watching outside my window the tree's shadow changing positions. Now it's evening and I'm on my way to my daily snorkel swim with ‘Bruno’, my Caribbean reef-shark. We've been friends for a long time and we often swim a few laps in the evening hours. Actually, swimming together is not the correct expression, more so I’ll end up getting food for him, because habit makes even of the fastest pickpocket a seemingly dulled guy. Bruno is thoroughly capable of hunting down his own meal, but finds it much more amusing to steal my catch I had earmarked for my own dinner.
Another spectacular evening settles in, preparing to cover us once again with a velvety cover of blues and pinks. The water is deep blue and the sky shows its first tint of pink. Around me only tiny waves, lapping lazily against the boat. I am alone in this peaceful expanse. Anchoring the boat in front of the rocks I get ready to slide into the water. Equipped with fins, mask, snorkel, and a ‘Hawaiian sling’, I make my way over to the reef. A sling is a hollow wood shaft through which hole one insert a small spear, to be drawn back with a rubber band. Similar principle to that of a slingshot. Sport fishing has never enticed me, so I view the Hawaiian sling more as a necessary evil. However, different from the sport fishing is the blue water hunting which does require more skill and knowledge of the quarry than conventional spear fishing. First of all, you only shoot what you plan to eat. Secondly, only schooling fish are hunted. This type of fishing is physically demanding and gives the quarry better odds of not ending up on your dinner plate. Diving down, selecting an edible fish, loading spear, drawing back and aiming, at the same time taking into consideration the speed of the fish and the sluggishness of the arrow, shooting, hitting,, and surfacing with the catch are a chore. I still remember vividly how many nights I've sat down to nothing but a bowl of rice, because I couldn't even nick the slowest of the fish. But with hours under water accumulated and a bumbling city-slicker has evolved into a true island boy.

For a few minutes I move along the reef, looking off into the blue to see what is going on out here, and naturally I’m waiting for Bruno, who will try as usual to take my catch and then swim away with both the fish and spear tip. That happened more than once and I've had to change my tactic accordingly. I used to hunt in open water and only drew the sling back far enough to spear the fish and retrieve it easily. These days I've developed a ‘Bruno-safe’ technique, it does not mean that I shoot now faster or get the catch sooner before Bruno would realize it. Now I hunt his meal first, getting the shot off with enough tension for it to pierce the fish, because I haven't yet been able to teach Bruno to bring the spear back to me. Otherwise, I would be left without a meal and he would have to hunt for himself again. Finally Bruno shows up. I often question myself where he spends his days, because punctuality isn't one of his strong points.
I get ready, as does Bruno. In other words, he positions himself right next to me and doesn't let me out of his sight. This guy still doesn't trust me. Granted, I tried to trick him in the beginning, shooting from close range so I could get to the fish first, but that usually only ended in a fight between us who would get the catch. Those roughhousing of several months wore me down, and probably also made me slower, because meanwhile I find it much wiser to shoot his meal first, before I get mine. And so I dive off for the first time that evening... Whoever now thinks that Bruno will settle for any fish is sorely mistaken. Sharks may not be able to turn up their nose, but they show exactly what they like and don't like. Bruno is something like a gourmet. My favorite fish are also on his menu. When I tried once to feed him a trigger fish, because it was getting late; but since Bruno refused it, I had to stay out even later to find something he would accept, and so the trigger fish became my dinner instead. Honestly, after that night-supper, I have to admit that Bruno was right.
Tonight, the fishing is good and I spear some of Bruno's favorites, and when he finally swims satisfied beside me, filled to the gills, we agree that I’m allowed to catch my supper now. I bag a fish quickly and, having what I need, swim a few laps around the reef with Bruno. The sun is setting on the horizon and I heave myself into the boat. Somehow I sense that I'm seeing Bruno for the last time. I gaze back and give him a last look. As it so often is, one experiences beautiful moments within a very short time sequence, and all that remains are memories. We were good friends who had some fun-time beneath the waters, even though it was generally much more work for me as for him. The years have passed and I often wonder how Bruno is doing. I hope he has found a new supplier to fetch his dinner. Bruno really was a real connoisseur …

about the author Dr. Erich Ritter

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