My friend Dana had the eerie luck of seeing a shark breach in Santa Cruz this summer:
From August 12-14th, I was camping at New Brighton State Beach just outside of Santa Cruz with my girlfriend, Valecia and my Portuguese Water Dog, Aesop. The campsite is on the bluff overlooking the ocean, so in the morning of the 13th, we went to the beach and spent most of the day swimming.
It was a very active day at the beach. There were people fishing and kayaking, and the ocean seemed active in general. There were a few young seals in the water playing with a bunch of little kids. The seals seemed to be very social and curious. Since my dog likes to swim pretty far out, I remember thinking he looked (perhaps too much) like a baby seal. Aesop is an expert dog swimmer, but next to the seals, I worried that from a shark’s point of view, he might appear like a sluggish baby seal who had drifted from the group, so I tried to stay close to him in the water.
Valecia went to get supplies from the campsite, and Aesop and I got out of the water. I was looking at the ocean and suddenly everything seemed very calm. The seals had all disappeared and the surface of the water appeared still and glassy. Shortly after, large pelicans starting lining the shore. There were so many of them, and they were so large, that they scared a few straggling swimmers out of the water. I looked at the water and thought, “Of all the times I’ve stared at the ocean, it’s never seemed as still and creepy as right now.” I had never noticed every animal disappear so suddenly before.
And then, I saw a great white shark breach the surface of the water. His whole body ejected straight up into the air. The shark wasn’t huge, but I definitely recognized that it was a great white. He was probably about 9-12 feet long. The sighting lasted only for a moment, and I was looking around to see if anyone else had seen it. I was dying to confirm what I had seen because I had never seen anything like this in my entire life.
About 6-8 minutes after the sighting, the pelicans descended into the water en masse. Shortly after that, all sorts of life returned to the ocean, particularly the scavenging birds.
Section 2 of my shark class met today. Instead of trying to decipher their stony expressions (anxiety, indifference?), I let them write a page describing how they felt about the ocean. One girl told me about her fisherman father who is legally blind and makes his own hooks. Although she is a vegetarian, she respects that her father only catches a fish or two at a time, because it’s better than factory farming. Oh the sheltered bliss of youth! While her father may catch only a poor hapless specimen or two, she has yet to discover the “factory farming of the sea” that is industrial fishing.
Sifting through the narratives of fear of drowning, fear of plankton, joyful memories of the dolphins of Anacapa, I found one student that took an overnight trip to SeaWorld with her seventh grade science honors class and dissected a squid there, another who tried to overcome her fear of sharks by standing in the “shark tunnel” at the aforementioned aqua prison, but confessed, “I didn’t last more than a few seconds without tears rolling down my face. I just can’t face them.” (emphasis mine).
Besides turning every single one of my students against SeaWorld, I look forward to exploring their fear more deeply.
“I just can’t face them,” seems to endow sharks with the power not only to kill, but to see inside the human soul and detect some moral failing there. I thought cats alone possessed this ability.