Swimming with Sharks in Belize

It’s never really been a goal of mine to swim with sharks. I’ve thought about the concept briefly and kind of decided ‘maybe not a great idea’. I mostly just don’t want to die that way or lose a limb…normal people concerns. But, when I went to Belize, one of their main activities/attractions is something called “Shark Ray Alley,” a designated area in the ocean where boats pull up with bait and humans (two separate things in their minds), feed the sharks, and let the humans get into the water with sharks and stingrays. When you’re on vacation, the ‘yes effect’ takes control. You just start agreeing with whatever your group wants to do, so I put my big girl swimsuit on and agreed to swim with these a-holes.

These two super awesome dudes took us out on their boat, gave us gear and were our instructors for the couple of hours we were out at sea. We drove about 20 minutes out, and as soon as the boat pulled up to this one specific spot, 30 nurse sharks showed up quicker than I show up to wine tastings. Apparently, they know that boat = breakfast. One of the instructors started tossing little bits of fish off the left side of the boat and the sharks were swimming over one another to inhale the food. The other instructor told us to get into the water on the right side of the boat and to stay about 5-8 feet away from the sharks. No, we weren’t in cages. The only gear we had on were snorkel masks and flippers.

I plopped into the water ready to die. “I’ve done a lot of things,” I thought. “I regret not buying that bouncy house though. And I regret not doing more drugs. And I regret not doing both of those things at the same time.” I swam in the water for a bit and dipped my whole face in so I could see what I was working with. I saw all the sharks congregating on the left side of the boat, trying to get a good snack in before their entree (us). There were four of us adults and about 20-80 nurse sharks just 10 feet away. They reminded me of what my dogs do whenever I’m eating…just kind of stay in one spot and stare at me until I give in (immediately) and throw them some chicken.

Before all of this, my boyfriend promised to stay next to me and hold my hand the whole time. He’s pretty muscular and was in the military for like 6 years so I had every intention of not leaving his side during this experience. In my mind, I had nothing to worry about. When the sharks attacked, he’d sacrifice himself to save me and I’d write a little paragraph about him at the end of my memoir, and adopt his dog and take his house. This is not what happened. Instead, he kept getting water in his mask and was too busy drowning and inhaling all of the ocean water to be my protector. I was on my own and made a mental note of how useless he is underwater.

I swam back to the boat in a super elegant way (similar to a mermaid). But, I’m not very bright, so I tried to climb the ladder with giant flippers and my snorkel mask still stuck to my face. Not only could I not see well, but didn’t think to take these things off my feet. And there’s nothing really to hold onto except for the boat which was all lubed up by the water we’d been dripping onto it. So, I rolled back onto the boat (picture a whale rolling around on the sand). “Do they not attack people?” I asked one of our boat-men. “Nah, not unless you mess with them.” He said. “Do you want to feed them?” I need everyone and everything to like me at all times, so of course, I wanted to feed them. They were cute now that I was hovering above them.

After I got home, I Wikipedia’d ‘nurse sharks’ and according to the interwebs, they’re ‘ranked fourth in documented shark bites on humans.’ It says this might be because divers aren’t as cautious around these guys since they don’t have a reputation for attacking people. So basically, the take-home lesson is that I swam with the deadliest sharks in the ocean and lived to blog about it.