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February 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 39, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diving in “Shark-Infested” Waters

with oxygen tanks, to boot

from the February, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Don't you scratch your head when you read stories of people swimming, boating or being rescued in "shark-infested waters?" The phrase conjures up comic book visions of WWII sailors floating amid thousands of crazed sharks. Once upon a time, perhaps, some seas were shark infested, but today they exist only when someone is chumming sharks for photographers.

Nonetheless, the CBS station in Miami reported this in August, "Suffering through jellyfish stings on her face, Diana Nyad is in day two of her quest to swim from Cuba to Florida in shark-infested waters without a protective cage." She should have worried about the jellies, not the sharks.

The Sydney Telegraph had the America's Cup previews last September "contested in the shark-infested waters of San Francisco Bay." And the Ellesmere Point Pioneer in the U.K. had "the fearless Father Christmas braving the shark-infested waters to deliver presents to the aquarium's team of divers." At least they get the joke.

However, I just discovered a new angle by Lindsay Craven, a staff writer for North Carolina's Yadkin Ripple, who profiled a local assistant dive instructor as a daredevil who has "been scuba diving in eel-infested waters." I won't mention the chap's name so as not to embarrass him.

And while I'm ranting, how about this item in the Dubai National? "The cheery Filipino Mario Tapales . . . is the man to indoctrinate me in the PADI course. It seems diving is a lot more than just donning some goggles and strapping an oxygen tank on your back."

Plenty of American writers get that wrong too. Matthew Lynley, a Wall Street Journal blogger writing about Google photomapping reefs, writes, "Google is adding street-view photos of six of the biggest coral reefs around the world . . . If that doesn't make you want to slap on an oxygen tank and hop into the ocean, who knows what will." Maybe if you have emphysema, but I'll stick to Nitrox.

A few months ago, the Los Angeles Times' business section reported, "Now St. Nick is strapping on an oxygen tank to take photos underwater with shoppers at Sport Chalet." I'm pretty sure Sport Chalet knows better.

Even Hollywood actors get it wrong. In a Playboy interview, Matt Damon said he was terrified after shooting an underwater scene in The Bourne Supremacy," saying, "So I wouldn't be constantly aware of how scared I am of drowning, I had to go to a pool with this great stunt guy and divemaster a couple of times a week for a month or so to train me to relax underwater without an oxygen mask." We assume the divemaster set him straight and gave him the right type of gear -- and mask -- so he didn't end up drowning.

But the grand prize goes to the Fiji Times, for putting it all together in 2008. "A tourist battled an allnight ordeal, swimming10 kilometres in shark-infested waters near Vanua Levu for about 12 hours before reaching Taveuni. Thomas Holz, 40 . . . and three other holidaying tourists were part of a 5 p.m. diving outing organized by Bubble Divers at the Rainbow Reef in Vanua Levu. . .Twenty-five minutes into the dive, [Holz] surfaced for air after exhausting his oxygen supply.

"'The divemaster told me to hold on where I was while he dived for the remaining three who had also run out of oxygen,' Holz said. 'The boat was about 100 feet away, and I could see it on the horizon but couldn't swim for it because the currents were too strong.' When the divemaster resurfaced a few minutes later with the other tourists, Holz was nowhere to be found.

"Holz said he could hear the sound of the boat engine, but it was far away and he could hardly see through the dark. 'I swam for Taveuni. The currents were strong and . . . though I was tired, I hung on to the oxygen cylinder and kept swimming. Then early this morning, I felt the seabed and just screamed out for help before I collapsed on the shore.'" Not from oxygen poisoning, I hope

- - Ben Davison

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