Tiger Shark or Red Sea Rooster?

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University of Haifa geoarchaeologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Beverly Goodman

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… sends word from the Red Sea of a too-close encounter with a tiger shark—or was it a giant rooster?

Just wanted to tell you a little about my activities the past couple of weeks in the field. I’m on a research ship called the Mediterranean Explorer

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… which is collecting mapping data and sediment cores from the Northern Gulf of Eilat-Aqaba—the northernmost point of the Red Sea. The multinational project involves participants from Jordan, the U.S., and Israel, and EcoOcean was kind enough to provide the ship.

My job here is to collect sediment cores…

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… from water depths up to 40 meters (about 130 feet). It’s been going well, with lots of improvements now that we are using rebreathers and an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) so that people on the ship can track the work.

In any case, we had a rather funny moment yesterday (well, funny and scary). I was diving with a colleague named Timor Katz in Jordanian waters at a 32-meter (105-foot) collection depth.

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We were both working away on our tasks when I glanced up to check on him. He was about 10 feet away and all was fine with him. However, the very large object moving behind him gave me reason to pause.

A large shark—at least 14 feet long—was cruising no more than 10 feet behind my hardworking friend. It looked like a gigantic paper cutout on the blue background. Because Timor was busy and turned toward me, he didn’t see it.

I had his attention, so after pausing to remember, I finally recollected the “shark” sign—made by holding your hand on your head like a fin. I threw in some wide, panicky eyes to get the right effect.

He stared at me blankly and shook his head to let me know he didn’t understand. Meanwhile, I kept

an eye on the swimming torpedo as it slowly passed behind him. Again I signed, again no understanding.

I observed the distinctive stripes and head shape identifying the lurking animal as a tiger shark. I hoped I wouldn’t get to see its famous turn-on-a-dime attack mobility. At that moment, I regretted that the rebreathers were so quiet and didn’t have the scare-away effect that bubbles create with standard scuba

equipment. I also lamented the close resemblance between me in a rebreather and a large tasty turtle.

I glanced at the equipment on hand for possible weapons, then gave up on that idea and considered the possibility of climbing into our supply cage as if it were a mini shark protection unit!

In any case, the tiger shark went on its way. We were only at the 45 minute mark on what would be a two-hour dive. I spent the rest of our time in the water on the lookout for the shark’s return. Every little shadow or object touching me made me start and turn. My buddy, meanwhile, kept working away, blissfully ignorant of the recent danger.

Once we were back on deck, I told Timor about his close encounter. He was disappointed to learn that he’d been so close yet managed to miss seeing the shark, and finally had an answer to the question that had bothered him for most of the dive: “Why is Beverly giving me a sign for a giant rooster?”

Unfortunately, the ROV had not been positioned to capture the shark, but I’ve got a lasting image in my head of that beautiful creature moving, but seeming entirely motionless, across the blue backdrop.

We’ll be reviewing our underwater diving signals before any future dives. 🙂

Hope all is well! –Beverly

Sketch by Timor Katz, photos by Beverly Goodman (ship’s bow) and Steve Breitstein

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