‘All right Jacque – lets see who stays down the longest!’, Enzo smiled at me. We had been playing the same game for the last four weeks, Beau and I were on the final dive of a five-day trip and we had built up a friendly rivalry pretending to be Jacque Mayol and Enzo Maiorca, the free divers made famous in the movie “The Big Blue”. We were about to dive a site known as Silverbanks that sits on the southeast side of Santa Cruz Island. Silverbanks is a massive kelp forest in 30 to 60 feet of pure pacific blue. Swimming through the tall trunks of the aquatic trees, it is easy to momentarily forget the water and imagine how bird must feel in flight.
It is unusual for me to feel uneasy in the water, but during the dive I was unsettled — the submerged hairs prickling on the back of my neck. Determined not to let Enzo beat my bottom time, I found an uninspiring reef to photograph and slowly burned through my roll of film, taking small sips of air to conserve my tank and wondering if my friend had finished his dive.The commotion started as soon as I surfaced. “GET ON THE BOAT NOW!” my frantic friends faces yelled at me as I lazily swam towards the swim step “SHARK!”.
Apparently as I was taking my time underwater, a 14 foot juvenile Great white had hit a harbor seal a couple of hundred feet from the anchor line of the boat. When I surfaced the shark was slowly circling his prey waiting for it to bleed to death.
Sharks are smart hunters. Rather than risking bodily injury to themselves, they hit their prey with the teeth that tear and wait just below the surface for their lunch to become to weak to resist. Never have I seen a more hopeless look on the face of any creature, then in the eyes of that harbor seal. It was a broken being. Waiting for death.
We waited with it. We waited for over an hour, watching and waiting for the deed to be done.Waiting for the shark to fulfill its role at the top of the aquatic food chain and take its dinner to the depths. But time was running short, and the sun was sinking low, and the channel had to be crossed. Jacque and Enzo knew the most important lesson of the sea, that she either wants you, or she doesn’t. In the final scene of La Grand Bleu, the audience is left guessing to Jacques fate as he swims into the depths and the embrace of the ocean. I also was left guessing to the fate of that harbor seal. The last I saw it; it was swimming for some rocks near the shore. A sad trail of blood lingering behind its path in the water. In my mind, it survived, gnarled teeth marks a proud battle wound on side. But in reality there was no guess that day, the sea didn’t want me and it was time to go home.
Images and Text © Jonathan Kingston 2002 and 2007 respectively