An Encounter with a Six-Gill Shark

by Dan Killam

The day was gorgeous, and the water was at a perfect temperature. As I followed Professor Ginsburg through the kelp forest, appreciating my newfound skills in maintaining neutral buoyancy, I suddenly saw a long, silver object appear and disappear between two stands of kelp. I realized excitedly that we had the privilege of swimming with a 5-foot-long shark, and when Dr. Ginsburg animatedly motioned for our group to follow it, I didn’t hesitate. Another glimpse of the shark immediately followed, this time headed back around us, barreling through the water like a missile. I realized that this magnificent creature, far from treating us as a predatory threat, was actually just as interested in us as we were in him. To him, we were simply three strange black fish, with 4 long fins apiece and with all sorts of strange tentacles emerging from our mouths. We began to wonder if he was observing us or sizing us up as a refreshing snack, and started to swim back towards the safety of the dock, but not before seeing our new companion/diner 2 more times, circling us.

We later learned that it was a six-gill shark, extremely uncommon in shallow waters and mostly harmless to humans, but the experience of sharing an environment with such a powerful, impressive creature made me realize the immense privilege that we had been given, learning to dive in a pristine marine preserve. In this environment, I was merely a participant in the ecosystem rather than a disturbance. In developed, controlled Los Angeles, there aren’t many opportunities to witness the power of nature. Diving with this magnificent creature was like living in a nature documentary, except as a participant rather than an observer. As I complete the 25 dives needed to be certified as a scientific diver, I hope to hone my skills until diving becomes as natural as swimming. Only at that point will the really exciting discoveries begin.

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