Diving South Africa, Umkomaas area

IMG_1500aIn The Realm of the Tiger Shark

Article and images by: Jess Vyvyan-Robinson, PADI Divemaster # 294196

The sun was out, and the sea was pure sapphire all the way to the horizon. As we sped out through the breakers, we could see the seafloor so clearly through the crystal water that it was like looking through a window onto the world below. The ocean was flat, oily calm, reflecting upon its surface myriad shifting shades of grey and blue. When we got to the site, there were several other boats already out there, inevitably drawn by the idyllic conditions. I could see all the way to the bottom, even here, three kilometres from shore- occasionally, a blacktip appeared beneath us in a shimmering streak of liquid bronze.

IMG_1265 aWe decided to leave the other boats and bait a few hundred metres further south. Slipping into the water was like surrendering to a different state of being: 360 degrees of clear, endless blue, punctuated with darting shoals of yellow-tipped kingfish and the ever-circling shiver of shining sharks. We had blacktips all around- but today was a day that literally cried out for tigers, and so we ascended after a while, and motored back to the other boats hovering over the drop-off.  By this time, they’d attracted three tigers to the bait drum- all we had to do was sit and wait for the melee to subside- for them to ascend, and for us to have the tigers all to ourselves. Eventually, that’s exactly what happened- it was just me and Andrew, one of our clients, on scuba; and Mark and the other client, Alex, snorkelling at the surface.

IMG_1470 aYou can’t possibly miss the tigers- they have such presence, such beauty. They are a world apart from the blacktips not just because they are so much bigger and more impressive, but because they have an inexplicable, feline grace that is entirely unique. I love them, completely and unconditionally. In the end, we were surrounded by four of them, their silver-striped forms materialising out of the depths and melting back into them again in repetitive, cyclical synchrony. One of them, recognisable by the blue and black pilot fish hovering by her jaw, came in closer and closer to us each time. We would be watching the others, and then turn around to find her just metres behind us. She would swim directly towards us, and then, just as her great wide head got a little too close for comfort, she would imperceptibly alter course and swim by, watching us closely with her great black eyes. I never felt threatened, and I found myself willing them to come closer. These sharks cast a kind of spell on you- you want them desperately not to leave, but they command too much respect to even consider chasing them. You wait, and if you are lucky, they will honour you with their proximity.

We spent over an hour with the tigers, coming up only on the very last of our air. I could have stayed there forever, with them. On the surface, Andrew and I could not stop smiling; I think that we both felt that we had just been privy to something incredibly special. All the way back to shore, I revelled in the unique expansion of the soul that only comes from finding oneself completely aligned with nature, if only for one brief, magical moment in time…