We finally landed in snorkeling utopia—an interesting rocky shoreline, great visibility, no current, and shallow all around—no scary deep crossings to make. I was in the water almost before the anchor dropped and told the captain I’d be gone for hours, scouring miniature habitats.
I found Cushion Sea Stars bigger than my head and clusters of Pale Mermaid’s Wineglass—tiny pale green algae cups decorated with lines that radiate perfectly from their center like the ribs of a parasol. One more reason to become a mermaid in my next life. As I started along the rocky edge, there were so many things to see I could hardly stay focused. Bearded Fireworms and Gobies and Blennies that go unnoticed unless you move slowly and closely to catch a tiny shift in their eye. Just inches from my face, I could make out subtle differences between the tiny creatures. Indeed, a Dash Goby has a Morse code of black dashes running down the side of its body and a Goldspot Goby is really gold. I quietly photographed each one so when I returned to Gémeaux, I could learn their name and the details of their personalities from my reef books.
I spotted a Balloonfish with its iridescent turquoise eyes and short spines lying flat against its body. As much as I’d love to see one of these critters inflate itself with water into a threatening spiked balloon, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for scaring it into that state. A Christmas Tree Worm opened up so fully that it revealed a black and white stem that looked just like a candy cane—perfect in keeping with the theme of its name. At one point, I entered a narrow inlet behind a rock outcropping that was so shallow, I couldn’t move at the risk of disturbing someone’s home beneath me. I was so preoccupied making my way through all the nooks and crannies that I didn’t notice a Spotted Moray Eel slither out of a cranny right below me! Okay bud, I know I got too close. I’ll be backing away Right Now. Those eels look fierce with their gaping mouth but I realize, contrary to The Deep, they’re not going to hurt me unless I stick my hand in their home.
I pressed on, planning to swim around the bend out of the captain’s sight when I spied a really big Nurse Shark sleeping in some rocks. I know they’re generally harmless to swimmers, but still their sheer size gives me pause. I thought, okay maybe this is the right time to turn around. I slowly turned to retrace my steps and head back to Gémeaux when I saw something big and gray out of the corner of my eye swim fast at me. What the hell was that?! My impulse for capturing a great photo overtook survival instincts and I fumbled to turn my camera on. At that point, I didn’t think I was in any danger and certainly I would want to relate the tale to my great great grandchildren of how I wrestled a sea monster. And it was a monster—three to four feet long with an ugly protruding lower jaw. I know I should be ashamed of talking smack about my sea friends but this guy obviously had no interest in developing a friendship. Instead, he continued to dart around me and dive bomb my face. Now I was afraid. I was sure he wanted to eat me. Face your danger they always say when you’re white-water rafting—point your feet towards the big rocks that you want to avoid. I drew my legs into my chest and kicked hard with my fins, sending a clear message not to mess with me. Immediately I thought Oh shit, I’m creating such chaos with all this splashing and flailing, I’ll probably attract that nurse shark who will think I’m an incapacitated critter perfect for an easy meal. And the kicking, of course, was not discouraging my present attacker. The bubbles just obscured my view so I couldn’t see the direction of his next assault.
I tried to calm myself down and think what do I know about Remoras? They look like sharks but they’re not sharks. They attach themselves to sharks and no doubt this guy had grown tired of waiting for sleeping beauty to wake so decided to find a different host. I never thought they were aggressive so what’s up with this one? Maybe he just got the boot from the shark and was in a foul mood. At this point, I had backed myself up to the jagged ironshore rock and sat atop a piece of limestone without any concern to the sharp points piercing my butt or the little ecosystems I was smothering. I called for Allen but no response. I was out of earshot. After a few minutes, I thought surely this evil critter was gone. I slipped stealthily back into the water and made a bee line for Gémeaux. Suddenly, I felt something on my leg. I jerked my head around and sure enough the little sucker was right back beside me and I thought trying to bite me or take me down. I’m going to be a bloody mess and if this guy doesn’t kill me, for sure the shark will. This time I screamed for Allen—HELP! I need help! I could see that Allen now heard me but why wasn’t he coming? Was he going to bring the dinghy or did he think a nice relaxing swim over to me would do the job? I swam as fast as I could, trying to ignore each time I felt the remora on my bare legs. Finally, the rescue boat arrived and Allen pulled me into the dinghy like a scene out of Jaws.
By now, you know I survived. I didn’t get eaten. I don’t even have any wounds. Well not to my legs anyway. I’m a frickin’ mental case in my head. I spent the rest of the day reading about remoras—are they dangerous? how do you avoid them? are there accounts of being attacked? Everything I read said they were just a nuisance and in fact sometimes they were a lot of fun…right, great fun. One woman had a YouTube video with the title Remora Acts Like a Puppy. I watched the video as this sweet little fish swam curiously and playfully around the woman during her dive. Sometimes, remoras attach themselves to divers, which is really cool…right, very cool. Was I just imagining this guy being aggressive when all he really wanted was to give me a hickey? If that was the case, he needs some serious work on his relationship skills.
Now what to do? This little imp has ruined snorkeling for me. I’m terrified to get back into the water. I took the day off—my ears hurt anyway so it was a good time for a break. We spent the day onboard and even got boarded. The Bahamian Defense Force, equipped with AK47s paid us a visit and came onboard to document all our documents. Nice guys just doing their job, but do they really have to bring a 5-foot gun with them?
The next day, I thought, I must get back in the water. I’ve snorkeled hundreds of hours and never had any trouble so don’t let this one event ruin everything. Besides, next time I see a remora, I’ll just think of it as a puppy dog that wants to play. I think I can convince myself of that. Sure. I reread everything on the internet two more times to make sure I hadn’t missed the story of how snorkelers were viciously killed by remoras. I was ready for snorkeling therapy. I decided my first session would be to clean the hulls of the boat. Stay close to the mothership in case another rescue was required. Normally, I like to do this au natural with no binding clothes and a good workout without fins. Today, I wanted body armor. Allen talked me down from a full-body wetsuit with hat and gloves to my simple Farmer Jane suit. I asked the captain to stand on the deck and watch for any incoming threats. He reminded me that remoras like the bottom of boats and my friend likely was at this very moment attached to Gémeaux. Gee thanks captain. I put my big toe in the water off the swim step and didn’t get attacked so I slinked in. I surveyed the underwater horizons, certain that Mr. Remora was licking his lips waiting for me. I cleaned the boat, washed my hair, and safely returned onboard, happy to have seen just a few simple sea shells. Not a single critter. Round one of therapy complete.
I was ready for round two the following day. I dragged the captain away from his electronics, handed him his mask and fins, and told him I required a bodyguard. We jumped in the water and I swam close to the big guy, my gaze constantly searching all directions. Puppy dog puppy dog I kept playing over in my head. Guess what happened? Nothing. Nothing at all. Kind of like when you go to the doctor because you have a fever but the thermometer reads perfectly normal at the appointment. We did see a nurse shark resting but no sign of the schizophrenic remora. Round two complete.
Over the next few days, we had beautiful slow motor-sails down island. One windless day, two dolphins swam and grazed near the boat. We were moving so slowly, I felt like I could jump in and stay alongside Gémeaux while I played with Flipper. I took the dolphin sighting as a sign—their playful and peaceful nature reminding us all to approach life with humor and joy. I thought of how much I love the sea and knew I couldn’t be bullied away from it. I was ready to return to my daily explorations. Puppy dog puppy dog…
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Hi Shiera and Allen.
I love your write-up and relate perfectly. I’ve just been harassed twice by a shark whilst paddling in my inflatable kayak, with it hitting my kayak with its tail, and then aggressively swimming at and around me. So I understand the mentality of trying to convince yourself that it’s safe to go back in the water, and the obsessive googling for info.
Oh dang–that’s enough to keep you from swimming laps forever!
I know how much you have loved snorkeling so I was sorry to hear about your encounter with the remoras. You are doing exactly the right thing by going back in the water and carefully getting back to exploring. My heart was in my mouth as you described this encounter. Glad it all worked out ok.
Love this post! And I didn’t know that you got pictures of your nightmare! So happy the therapy is working and hoping I can keep you company soon!
Geez — I’m in Atlanta but I don’t even want to go close to a swimming pool after your story! First it was pirates, then hurricanes, COVID and now I have to worry about you and sharks! Stay safe!!
Shiera, I love this post! Any of us who have snorkeled or been diving much can relate to the one minute take-down from oh so comfortable in the water to oh so vulnerable, and it does not take much. Your little puppy more than qualifies!! But getting back on the horse after it threw you was really smart.
Here’s to more adventures for you and the big guy!