Last February, shortly before our departure to go back to the wintry northeast, Ben took a relatively brutal spill on his bike that he rides several times per week for exercise. He returned home a gory road-rashed mess.
What do you do when you live next to the ocean and you are a gory road-rashed mess? You go in the salty ocean to clean up.
Ben had been floating beyond the ladder for a deliciously brief time to affix his mask when he turned over and found that it was not just him and the usual suspects (tang, parrotfish, coneys) in the water.
“Linda!! Shark! Big shark!” he shouted, like someone straight outta Jaws.
Instead of clearing out of the water right fast, like in the bad old Jaws days, I scrambled toward the water, desperately trying to pull on my fins and mask quickly in order to see this “shark” for myself.
Alas, by the time I got in, Ben’s shark — that had apparently smelled him from miles away — was gone.
“Are you sure it was a shark?” I asked, the dubiousness creeping into my voice.
“Yes! And it wasn’t a nurse shark. It was way bigger and rounder.” Ben was serious about his shark.
I was double dubious.
Until a week later when, on a leisurely swim to the nearby dock, a six-to-seven-foot long gray-colored shark darted out from under the dock and swam quickly across my line of vision toward the reef drop-off.
I followed her until she went all hyper-speed on me and disappeared.
Almost a year has passed since Ben’s first encounter and now we see “Sally” the Caribbean reef shark on a regular basis along the light blue ocean alley behind the house. She only shows herself — and I must emphasize she is controlling the sightings, showing up when one of us is in the water alone — once in a while, on her terms. She is definitely curious about the strange (edible?) creatures floating atop the water. (We don’t know that she is a she but we figure if not then Sally can easily become Sal.)
They say there are no sharks that live on the leeward side of the island. We beg to differ. Sally is clearly making the west side her home. Son Elias and Ben and I have seen her many times. She languidly swam by me on the inside of the reef three days ago!
Our shark-loving daughter Fiona was visiting for a month during the Christmas season this year and did not see her even once. Between boats and swimmers, there was far too much activity in the water.
“She’s a myth,” Fiona pronounced at the end of her vacation after her last snorkel in the backyard, when she knew she was not destined to lay eyes on Sally this time.
She’s not a myth and Elias took the video evidence to prove it. You can view it here.
If you are a visitor to Villa Salentein and you want a chance to see Sally, don your fins and a mask and snorkel north between 5 and 6 p.m… alone. If you DON’T want to see Sally, don your fins and mask and snorkel north or south with a friend or relation.
Bonaire creatures big and small
It’s been an epic year for cool creatures — big and small — in our Big Bonairean Backyard.
There was the Manta at Jeff Davis (see previous blog post). There have been multiple sightings of gorgeous hawksbill turtles on the house reef to the north. Son Elias discovered octopus city at 1,000 Steps. I won’t even try to begin to describe the veritable flotilla of barracuda at Salt Pier in January. Everything culminated at the end of last week when Ben took a spill from his bike and, bleeding pretty profusely, descended from the ladder into the Caribbean to clean his wounds. He took a little longer than usual to clean out his mask, affix it to his face and spin over to snorkel around. But when he did, he discovered that a very large friend was investigating the “chum” in the water: a 6-foot long reef shark! The shark quickly realized that Ben was not prey and swam off, Ben followed closely behind and alarmed the whole neighborhood with shouts of “SHARK” in an effort to alert me so that I could jump in the water and see it. It departed too quickly and so, alas, I did not get to swim with the shark. But it was a pretty cool encounter for Ben.
For me, though, the most exciting find of the season happened in mid-January at Something Special when — after 11 years of searching — I espied a frogfish on my own.
Here is a picture of the little guy.
When we dive, I am the person peering intently in crevices and atop sponges (frogfish) and closely studying the octocorals (seahorses). A whale shark could sail right over me and there is a very good chance I would not even notice. The small and juvenile creatures are my thing. So finding the common — but extremely elusive — frogfish was the highlight of my 2021-22 winter of diving.