Forever etched in LEE-ANNE STACK’S memory is an unexpected encounter with a fearsome array of dentition
FROM THE VAST BLUENESS came the teeth. Incredibly large, conical, white teeth. That’s all I could see. Then little partial orbs above the mouth – eyes staring straight at me. But it was those teeth that mesmerised me. They seemed to grow exponentially as their owner climbed the open water column straight towards my face.
Ohhh! I wonder how much this is going to hurt?
Hanging motionless at 30m, I was waiting for the other divers to come through the passage known as Calvin’s Crack. The crack, though not lush with corals and sponges, was an interesting dive in that it tested your buoyancy control and helped define the space (or lack of it) around you.
I had stared down into the depths of the Caribbean wondering what captivating creatures were playing out their lives down at the 60m and 90m levels. I was about to find out, first hand.
The set of teeth coming straight for me seemed to take forever. There was no sense in moving – where was I going to go?
With only inches to go before striking my mask, the fish angled slightly and gently glided along my shoulder, over my tank, then circled back to brush himself against my forearms and hands.
I had no idea what to make of this cosy little display. Was he deeking me out so that I would drop my guard and he could snatch my fingers for a piscean version of sushi?
I kept my hands clasped tightly – just in case.
This was my first encounter with a dog snapper, aptly named because of the large canine-like teeth. And this fellow was a very large and toothy snapper.
As he continued to circle me I had a chance to observe that this lad had either been to war or was the object of some schoolyard bullying.
He had a few gashes and open wounds, but his sinister teeth looked polished and in perfect condition.
WHEN MY HEART-RATE settled down and my regulator decelerated from overdrive, I put my arms out, while cautiously keeping my fingers together.
The fish immediately swam in and around them, rubbing himself on my wetsuit. He was a big handsome chap; strong profile, lovely yellow-olive green sides and back. Twining himself in and around my legs, he reminded me of a wriggling puppy that can’t seem to get enough affection. I was starting to take a shine to him. A wary shine.
By now the others had come through the opening and were watching the action from a distance.
My dive-buddy came over to check things out but Oliver (yes, I had already named him) had eyes only for me.
He continued to keep me company, and his persistent pursuit of contact made me feel rather special. There is a strict no-feed policy, so I wondered what had created this level of intimacy.
My fins and snorkel were bright yellow and I wondered if he felt I was kin. Perhaps he felt safe in my company.
Then it dawned on me. I was special – I was the chosen one. Singled out from the 12 other divers, I was the human grooming station, or more specifically, the one with whom Oliver chose to unselfishly share his wealth of parasites and sharksuckers.
Yes, he was shamelessly rubbing himself on me in a bid to brush his unwanted passengers onto a new host.
When it was time to ascend for our safety stop Oliver made one last pass, started swimming off and then turned and, I swear, gave me one last look before leaving as silently as he had come.
That evening, as I meticulously scrubbed my wetsuit and myself, I once again visualised the set of teeth coming up from the depths, and realised that the image was etched in my memory forever.
I don’t know if there’ll ever be another Oliver in my life, but I’ll keep diving and looking, just in case!
Norm de Lenheer
Appeared in DIVER June 2017