Voices: Sheer Ecstasy—A Touch of Fear

by Amdrew Hasty ’09

November 26, 2008

Snorkling with Darwin

(June 14, 2008, diving along North Seymour, Galapagos Islands)—I was that kid in kindergarten. The kid who during free time took up both dry erase boards and in pure Picasso fashion drew what I was passionate about…sharks. Sharks attacking scuba divers, sharks eating fish, people spearing sharks.

The masterpiece included a lot of red marker, not to mention my teacher questioning whether or not she should refer me to a psychiatrist.

That was then, this is now, and not much has changed. Now I am that kid who will spend hours showing people shark footage on You- Tube. I once scolded my best friend during high school spring break for leaving the water too soon after being stung by a sting ray and not sticking around for a little while longer, as if the blood that was seeping out might serve as chum and attract sharks.

I realize there is more to the story than bloody portraits from my youth and Internet videos. The truth is, sharks evolved into the elite predator of the seas millions of years ago and have failed to exhibit any evidence that they will be handing down that title any time soon. After swimming with a whitetip reef shark a couple of days ago, I referred to sharks in my journal as the factor for maintaining balance in the ocean, similar to the lysosome in the cell.

The experience with the whitetip was worthwhile but not satisfying. I wanted to be in that situation where my consciousness was fighting between being afraid and astonished, that situation where
I was at the mercy of the ocean’s king.

I got that chance today.

We began the day with an island visit to North Seymour to see nesting/mating frigate birds. Then we hit the water for scuba diving. The current was rough and visibility was poor. We got picked up by the dinghies and taken up the coast to calmer waters. I purposely passed on staying close to the coastal rock faces and stayed in deeper waters, with hopes of glimpsing a shark.

No luck.

It was time to head back and the boat was only about 50 yards away, so I opted to swim back to the boat, hoping to see a shark on the way back.

Again, no luck.

But as I got closer to the boat, I noticed everyone outside on the stern deck gazing into the water, the water I was still in. Then I learned what the ruckus was about; three Galapagos sharks, probably six or seven feet in length, were circling the boat.

Watching them glide effortlessly through the blue water was breathtaking…literally—I forgot to breathe through my snorkel. My mind seemed in the fight of its life, struggling to decide to be scared to death or completely overcome with astonishment and amazement. It is the opportunity I had been waiting for, perhaps all my life, and I can honestly say it was one filled with sheer ecstasy…until the ocean’s top predator swam directly under my feet. Then a little fear settled in and it was time to leave the water. One thing is certain: My drawings of sharks will be a lot more detailed now!

Andrew Hasty ’09 participated last summer in the Wabash Summer Study in Ecuador program, where he explored the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos Islands.


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