Friday, February 26, 2010

The Story

Shark men: Gary (right), our iconic Rusi and Alex the Sharkman.

Bless Gary!

Every picture truly tells a story!
After I posted that old picture of Gary and the Tiger Shark, he took the time to write me a moving message about the story behind it - just for me and not meant for public consumption. But having asked, he's granted me permission to post it. I love it as it so eloquently documents the transition from macho Shark killer to passionate Shark advocate, and what a good man my dear friend Gary really is.
Here is Gary's reminiscence of that fateful day.

Dear Mike,

You know that photo of the shark and myself has a story with it that I want to share.
I lived in the Gambier Islands in remote eastern French Polynesia for many months when I was sailing around the world. I would go out with the natives everyday and photograph them free diving black pearls and shooting fish for the village. One day we went out in three dugouts to spear a seasonal schooling fish they called Nanui (like a Bermuda chub) in the lagoon. There were many sharks around due to the amount of fish being shot and large amounts of blood.

I was snapping away at the grey reefs and blacktips with my camera when the tiger showed up.
This is in 1980-81 and most folks knew nothing about shark behavior or how to read it. The tiger was amped up and initially went after a couple of the native free divers, chewing on their fins. The tiger then came at my wife, who kicked her away repeatedly while backpedaling to get away. It even bit one of the outrigger logs on one of the canoes!

I carried a bangstick in the bottom of my dive bag that someone had given me before I left to sail around the world and I had never used it.

However, it was in my dive bag in the canoe that day. I quickly rolled into the outrigger canoe, grabbed it and rolled back in the water just in time to see the tiger turn and charge at me. To this day I really did not know what I was going to do with the bang stick but when she came at me and tried to bite the stick in my hand I rolled over her back and shot her behind the head.

Ultimately I got a rope on her tail and towed her back to the village behind the outrigger canoe.
There was a great celebration in the village and they feasted on the tiger shark that night. I was the honored guest because I had slayed this magnificent beast. In Polynesian fashion the celebration was done out of respect for the valiant shark. Never in a boastful way.
The chief of the village presented me with a tooth from each side of the jaw of the tiger shark and those are the same teeth I have worn around my neck now for 30 years!

They are a reminder to me of how we fear what we do not understand.
It is a symbol of man's ignorance.
That photo of the tiger and I..... is like another person. A person who did not understand that the tiger shark was only doing what it was meant to do. That day in the lagoon.....we created that seemingly dangerous encounter by our spearfishing for the village. In retrospect, I have relived that day a thousand times in my head and early on realized that all we really had to do was get out the water and let her enjoy another day of life in her world.
We were the intruders...and not the other way around.

I would say that that one experience with the tiger shark set the tone of how I would dedicate the rest of my life to understanding and helping others understand this misunderstood creature.
Hopefully she did not die in vain.

All of us old timers in this business of sharks have similar experiences.
Most of us just did not know how limited the ocean and its resources were when we were young. It was a path of knowledge most of us walked. We saw the changes ourselves first hand. We did not read about it. We lived it and saw it each time we went underwater in our work and travels around the world. At least we were wise enough to see the damage for what it was and try and change the tidal flow as best we could with education of others.

Take care old man!

Love 'ya mon!


Robert said...

Great moving and inspirational story Gary.

Thank you and Mike for sharing that with us.

We attended a great Shark Party here in Hong Kong last night. We will tell you more later.

Keep up the good fight.

Wolfgang Leander said...

Good story, Gary; reminds me of my own bio as a shark nut.