Shark Bait
There are sharks, and then there are mako sharks. Marcus Fillinger describes in words and pictures an encounter in New Zealand that left him shaken yet stirred

AN AGONISING GURGLE AND A THUNDEROUS HURL from a frail Swedish dude at the bow of the boat signified another addition to the burly club. Making bets on future additions to the club keeps us amused as we wait for the first of the sharks to arrive.
     Its 7am and the cage is in the water, swaying gently in the calming swell. The sun casts a yellowish hue on the sea, while the skipper tells salty tales to heighten the sense of anticipation.
     No-one speaks. We hold our breath as the sea is sliced by the unmistakable shape of a mako sharks dorsal fin, gently carving a path towards the boat. Everyone scrambles and jostles for a vantage point from which to watch, as the majestic predatory creature investigates the pea soup of burly, the fish-bait which led it here.
     We watch open-mouthed in amazement as this warm-bodied member of the Lamnid family mouths the burly bucket with malice and intent.
     Its a wee tacka, exclaims the skipper. The word wee, when referring to a mako in Kiwi terms, is reserved for anything smaller than 3m.
     By 7.50 there are eight to 10 blue sharks around the cage. They circle curiously, open-mouthed to investigate the content of the burly-rich water. The wee mako retires out of sight because of the commotion and the activity of the blues.
     I hastily kit up, armed with my trusty Nikon RS, dive buddy, a ski pole and a dash of fish-oil on our wetsuits for good measure. Gently lowering ourselves into the viscous trail of burly, we become just another foreign object to be analysed.
     Swimming with feeding blue sharks is like directing traffic at a demolition derby, except that they come from above as well as below. Shooting still images in this type of situation requires close teamwork and trust in ones dive partner.
     We slowly drift away from the sanctuary of the cage and the boat, trying to break clear of the feeding circle and the burly trail.
     As we observe, touch and fend off the blues, my mind harks back to an article on blue sharks and the fatality rate among sailors taken by them from sunken ships during World War Two. Blues, it said, are basically opportunists and will have a little taste of almost anything on offer.
     But instead of worrying about them, I decide to worry about the mako we saw before. I wonder where it went, and whether it has friends
     As if by request, a mako gracefully sails into sight from the depths of the misty blue water, curiously scrutinising us as it passes 12-15m away.
     I turn to my buddy and we shake our heads from side to side and gesture with our hands wide apart that this one was not the wee female we saw before. It was very big, and very serious.
     I can identify the torpedo-shaped silhouette to my left and 6m or so down, confirming that the mako is still investigating the commotion of the blues and the fishy contents in the water.
     Confident that it knows we have seen it, we hope that an ambush wont be among its options. We have drifted about 10m from the boat, and with this in mind we slowly but deliberately make our way back towards it, fending off fin-chews in the process.
     Only 3m from the boat and ascending, I hear a couple of muffled sounds from behind me. I turn to look. My buddy is kindly giving me the approaching direction of the mako.
     Its close, real close, the unmistakable blade-shaped tail sweeping from side to side and rapidly propelling it in our direction. Being in the centre of the burly was not a good idea.
     Makos have been known to reach speeds of up to 56mph, but at that moment I think we broke its record. We launch ourselves clumsily back onto the boat with our new-found superhuman strength, motivated by fear, adrenalin and then some more fear.
     I turn in time for the approach of the mako and capture an image to exemplify the ferocity of its exposed rank of needle-sharp teeth, as it consumes a bait wired to the cage while glaring at us with its dark, impenetrable eyes.
     The mako shark didnt want us, but was intrigued and captivated by what was on offer. To swim with this great predator left us awed, almost reverent.
     The mako is near the apex among ocean creatures, one of the largest predatory fish in the world. These magnificent animals have few natural enemies and command respect.
     Many species of sharks have been unjustifiably persecuted for years, some slaughtered nearly to extinction. We should learn to respect them for what they are: graceful, efficient and, most importantly, an integral part of the ocean food chain.

One of the feeding blue sharks
Watching the blue - a cage is probably the wisest place to be when mako sharks are around

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