A still of the shark from the GoPro footage taken by Michael. *Photo supplied
A still of the shark from the GoPro footage taken by Michael. *Photo supplied
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Two snorkellers hunting for lionfish got more than they bargained for when they encountered a four-foot reef shark in the water just a few hundred meters off John Smith’s Bay.

Tommy Sinclair and his nephew Michael were
doing their bit to help reduce the numbers of invasive lionfish when they spotted what they believe to be a dusky swimming calmly ahead of them. The pair were recently in the water, about 300m off shore, from between 7:15pm to 8:15pm when the chance meeting occurred.

Tommy said he never felt threatened by the animal, despite warding it off with his spear a few times. He did, however, post a video on YouTube that his nephew took on his GoPro to make people aware and to be vigilant while swimming along the south shore in the evenings. The reef line along south shore is very close to deep water which is why they come in though they do not tend to attack people. 

Respect

Tommy told the Bermuda Sun: “We didn’t feel threatened as such — we didn’t think we were going to be a meal. We just took it and respected that we were in the shark’s place, we played it cautious and made our way back to shore. I don’t want to scare people off from swimming — I’d go out there tonight if I could but I will be aware of my
surroundings. 

“I almost feel kind of special that I actually saw a shark — I’ve been swimming my whole life — I’m 55 — and I’ve never seen one when I’ve been in the water. I take it as a good experience we had as opposed to thinking we are very lucky to be alive, I don’t see it like that at all. We have sharks around Bermuda — people swim all the time.”

Tommy said the lionfish he had on the end of his spear fell off and while the shark swam up to it — it soon veered away again. 

Former Collector of Specimens for the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, Chris Flook, is one of the island’s leading experts on local marine life. He said: “That time is the classic time for when they would come up inside the reef like that — it’s nothing out of the ordinary. On the south shore the reef line is very close to the deep water. It’s not much of a stretch — you get sharks all around Castle Island at night. 

“Having said that, it’s nothing like it used to be. I was talking to (the late wreck diver) Teddy Tucker before he passed and he said that inside in the bays you wouldn’t be able to put a fish rack down in the water because a shark would be on it before it hit the bottom. So now we see one shark and people react but it’s really not uncommon. During the heat of the day you don’t see them up in shore because the water’s hot and they get sunburned. 

“The reef sharks that we get here — the Galapagos, duskies and silkies, etc… are predominantly preying on other things, smaller prey like parrotfish and small reef fish. We are the wrong target size. It’s like saying you want to go out for a hamburger and you get a full wilderbeast cooking on a rotisserie — it is too much for them. People give sharks a bad name — they are not that aggressive where they race in and snatch whatever is moving. They are actually very conscious about how they attack their prey because if they get injured they are done. 

“If you were swimming off the coast of California where they have seals which have a similar shape and size to us, I think the interaction with sharks is more common.”