Thursday, February 24, 2011

Part III: Blue Shark rescue La Jolla Cove

Part III Blue Shark rescue in La Jolla Cove

Now, at 30 feet in the kelp forest with about 900 psi left in my tank,  I have this about 6 foot long blue shark pinned upside down on his back in the rocks.  With the palm of my left hand pressing down moderately hard on his belly it is just possible for me slide my hand over to pinch onto the treble hook that is firmly affixed to his left pectoral fin. His tail at the other end is firmly in my right hand.  I start twisting the treble hook out of  his left pectoral fin with my left thumb and index finger.  Got it! At this point it feels pretty good to have gotten this far with all of my body parts intact and no blood except the little bit from the wound in the sharks fin from the hook I just removed.  Now he is free, the treble hook is between my thumb and index finger and my other three fingers now have the left pectoral fin firmly.  I have to shove him off and hope he doesn't turn and thank me for all this by taking some part of me with him as he goes.

I lift him out of the reef upside down and rocking him forward and back in a long swinging motion, one, two, three , release, away you go right? Wrong !!!

When he takes off, he is so fast I don't get my left hand with the hook in it out of the way quick enough, and the treble hook now snags him at the tail.  He takes out about 10 feet of line away from me,  is yanked to a complete stop, then he turns back directly towards me as I'm trying to swim away.  Lucky for me the line on the hook snags in the rocks again.  It yanks him to an other complete stop and probably saved me from great bodily harm.  But, darn it, he is snagged again, this time by the tail back down in the rocks.

Check air, jeepers, down to about 650 lbs! Check on John!

John is hovering off about the limit of visibility probably wondering what psycho ward they let me out of.  My breathing is hard cause the heart rate went up a bit (ya think) when I saw Mr. Blue coming back at me.  Check air again, John and I are now down to about 550 psi. Mr. Blue is down and not moving again.   OK, looks like I have to do this all over again, air is really low.  But, one more time; exhale, descend slowly, contact, pin him, roll him over. Unbelievable!  It works a second time!

Now, twist the hook out with thumb and index finger, got it!  But, heck what if I snag him again on the release?  The hook is right next to his tail fin even though it is out of it. 

Looking back at John I realize he has to take the hook from me.  I start this hunching motion with my right shoulder holding the hook and tail up towards John.  I want him to come over and take the hook out of my fingers before I release Mr. Blue.  I sure don't have air, or luck enough to play with  Mr. Blue a third time.  John is not understanding or he simply is not buying into the rescue. He doesn't move. 

I need to check air, 475 psi I'm guessing, don't really know at this point and I can't see my pressure gauge.   Got to do something.  OK John, I'll come to you!  So, I start swimming around the rocks with the shark held upside down, getting more line free from around the rocks.  When I think have enough free I turn and swim right towards John.  Believe me, no one has seen eyes in a diving mask bigger than his as I come up to him with the shark in hand.  He freezes.  I start tapping towards his mask with the hook and shark tail.  He gets it finally and takes the hook out of my hand.  Then, with a swinging, rocking motion once again; one, two, three, loose, go Mr Blue\!  I threw him off and forward.  He takes off like a bat out of hell and disappears into wet, blue-green void  Yeah!!!   Shark rescue 101 !!! 

So, John has the hook,  turning to him I take it out of his hand., swim down the line, pick up the marlin lure and wind the remaining line around it and put it in my buoyancy compensator pocket. In the moment we surface we each have about 250 psi. 

We look at each other. John says, "That was bloody brilliant mate, I can't believe you just did that."  It is only now that I think, "Rod, you are out of your mind."  But, the plus side is I am building good shark Karma. 


Footnote:  I took the lure and treble hook home, cut away most of the line, ran about 18 inches of the line from the hook to the lure, typed the date, time, and John's address in the UK on a sticker, put the sticker with the information on the marlin lure. That hook and lure are hanging in my office to this day.  Anyone that doubts the veracity of this story can get the John's name and address in the UK from me if you so desire :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Part II: Blue Shark rescue in La Jolla Cove

Part II
(September 13, 1999)
So, I grabbed the marlin lure and tied to pull the line free of the shark, immediately the Blue Shark went berserk at the other end and all the fish scattered.  Oops! immediately releasing the line I though "well, guess he gets to keep the lure for awhile. 

John was looking at me and his eyes in his mask were looking a little incredulous, actually, short of popping out of his mask.  He's obviously thinking "Bloody crazy mate, let the thing go it's way."  So, we continue on out across the sand patch and through the north end of the kelp to the outer reef wondering what will happen to our Blue friend.  After spending 20 minutes on the outer reef and seeing lots of cool animals and stuff John had about 1600 psi of air left.  We turned to head back from the east side of the kelp patch  towards the Cove 500 yards away at 220 degrees on the compass.  We crossed the sand patch entering into the south end of the kelp patch about 50 yard east of where we entered it on the way out.  

Jeepers! Looking down into the rocks from about 15 feet off the bottom we see our friend the Blue Shark again.  Only this time he is down on the bottom, motionless (is it dead?) in the rocks.  It is held fast by monofiliment line that has wrapped the rocks behind him.  He must have gone to the east, encountered a wall of kelp forest at that end of the U shaped patch of kelp and decided to turn west out of the forest back to open sea.  But, this gave the marlin lure he was trailing a chance to settle out of the water column onto the bottom snagging him in the rocks.

Wow, there he was trapped and if he isn't dead yet he definitely will be soon if he didn't get loose.  At this point a KPBS show on tagging Tiger Sharks around Cancun, Mexico comes to my mind.  A scientist hired Mexicans with pongas (small skiffs) to go out with them fishing for Tigers to tag for research purposes. In the film, the Tiger Sharks would be pulled in alongside the boat.  Once alongside the ponga they grabbed it by it's tail and rolled it on its back for tagging.  Immediately after being rolled on there backs the Tiger Sharks went limp, like knocked out. That was so interesting and bizarre.

So, I m thinking, "Wonder if that will work with a Blue Shark."  Remember now, I have a witness to this story!  I do an air check:  1000 psi left. Time enough I think.  So, I get about 10 feet over the Blue and start exhaling slowly from neutral buoyancy to negative, thus descending very slowly onto the shark.....Contact!!! He trys hard to escape.  But, he is pinned immediately and with one hand on his tail I roll him over on his back.  Well guess what, yep it works on Blue sharks, at least this one anyway.  He just went limp in my hands. Now I have one hand holding him firmly by the tail and the other on his tummy keeping him down. He is about 6 feet long and not moving at all.  For the first time I see clearly now that there is a big treble hook that has him firmly by his left pectoral fin.  The hook is now to my right as I hold him on his back.  Yikes!  What now?........(part III to come shortly)

Rod Watkins

Friday, February 18, 2011

Part I: Blue Shark Rescue in La Jolla Cove

Part I: Blue Shark Rescue

by:  Rod Watkins

On September 13, 1999 this incident was witnessed by John McAvoy of London, England, UK :

John and I had snorkeled out to dive at the south west end of the outer reef in the La Jolla Cove Ecological Reserve and descended into 30 feet at high tide.  Once on the bottom we struck out on a course heading 30 degrees breaking into the southeast end of the kelp forest. 

This particular part of the reserve has rocky patch reefs with sand between them.  In this spot the kelp forms a large "U" shaped stand with the open end of the 'U' facing to the west.  We passed through the south leg of the thick kelp and broke into the open over the sand patch that made up the inside of the U shaped stand of kelp.  Then, suddenly,  I caught movement to the west in the water column above me.  Whoa!, It was a nice size Blue Shark.

To our amazement this shark was trailing about 50 feet of marlin fishing line with a large Marlin lure trailing at the end of it.  A Marlin Lure looks like a small shiny license plate.  This shark must have been hooked on a Marlin fishing boat while trolling in the open ocean somewhere and broke the line. Behind him the shark was accompanied in train by dozens and dozens of fish. The were waiting for the catch or maybe the demise of the shark.  Who knows? 

As the shark swam past I could see that if I made effort I could grab the Marlin Lure at the end of the trailing line.  Swimming hard to it and reaching out I grabbed the lure with the six foot long shark at the other end and..............(look for the rest of the story soon).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Great White at La Jolla Cove Part II

Great White sited at La Jolla Cove:  Part II

This freak'n big Mako has made his long slow turn and is coming point on point to me.  The four students are two by two behind me.  My hands were at my side.  So, when the shark was about 5-8 feet from me I kick towards him as hard as I could with a deep inhale, blew out a full breath of air in his direction. and thrusted my arms forward as if to grab him. 

He made a hard right in front of us and vanished into the blue in a second.  We turned to 220 degrees for the lifeguard shack 500 yards away with about 1800 psi left and hugged the bottom all the way back in.  We never saw our toothed friend again.  On surfacing inside the Cove my divers were all about, "Wow." "That was a huge shark," "What kind was it?" and then everyone grew silent until up on the grass.  Maybe we were thinking how lucky we were.  But, I was thinking,  " that is something these kids will never forget " 

Really, when I am eaten by a shark I want it to be a Great White and not a Mako, Mako's are messy and have poor table manners.  Next blogg a new true story from the Cove :)  Rod

Monday, February 14, 2011

Great White Shark at La Jolla Cove Part 1

Part I:  Great White sited at La Jolla Cove

Someone thinks they saw a Great White at La Jolla Cove.  Most people in the rush of adrenalin when they see a shark underwater need to change their wet suit as soon as possible.  Ha, but really where is the video or the still photo to prove this?  I have been diving La Jolla cove since 1967 and know for sure that I have seen a big bad Great White only two times.  In both cases they swam away from the scene very fast. 

I suspect it was probably a Seven Gil as these have become visitors over the past two years to the Cove.  One individual I saw up close and personal was as long as 10 feet.  These are easily distinguishable from the more common visitors like the Soup Fin (Tope) and Blue Sharks (when the Barracuda come in)

Actually, the scariest shark I ever saw there was a Mako about 12-14 feet long on the very outside edge of the outer reef in 1997.  I was with four of my Diving Physics and Physiology students from San Diego State University doing their last check out dive.  The monster came parallel to us a 30 foot visibility day on the outside, make a wide slow turn then came point on point towards me.  Of course, I was in the lead and you could not mistake the curled long twisting style teeth distinctive for a Mako.  I can say without a doubt that this was the highest my heart rate ever became on any dive in my 44 years of diving.

As this big boy was coming in on me what do you think I did ?