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Swimming with Nurse Sharks

By Shayne Benowitz

Shayne lifeguarding at the reef.

Shayne lifeguarding at the reef.

This afternoon on a snorkel trip to Sand Key, Brian and I were talking about all of the amazing things we had seen at the reef lately. Every day is gorgeous on the water, and some days are truly exceptional. Brian told me that he was seeing nurse sharks at the reef frequently. Almost every day when I lifeguard, I hear customers exclaim that they saw a shark. Usually, they are thrilled and compare their story with other members in their party. On occasion, customers swim back to the boat in a panic.

A rainbow parrot fish.

A rainbow parrot fish.

I always make a point to explain to them that they have nothing to worry about with nurse sharks at the reef. Sometimes, people are skeptical, and you can’t blame them. I try to tell them that if I’m out there swimming in the water every day and I feel safe, so should they. Nurse sharks are nocturnal, so oftentimes you’ll find them snoozing at the ocean floor. They are not predatory, so as long as you don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with you.

Frankly, they are one of the greatest things you could see at the reef. As Brian was telling me how he had seen so many lately, I was jealous. I hadn’t seen a nurse shark at the reef in ages. Not because they’re not there, but because I don’t always have the opportunity to swim around and hunt for them when I’m taking care of customers. I see great things at the reef every day, but I hadn’t seen a nurse shark in a long time.

As the catamaran pulled up to the reef, Brian and I both decided that we would act as the lifeguards. After about fifteen minutes of being in the water, I heard people talking about how a nurse shark was only a few yards away from me. I hurried to put on my mask and I swam in the direction that people pointed. Sure enough, right before my eyes a large shark, probably 6 feet long, was swimming down towards the ocean’s bottom. Its body was dark and shadowy and it swam in a fluid, waving motion. Within no time it had covered enough ground that it was out of sight. I couldn’t wait to tell Brian and I was thrilled that my dry spell was broken!

Shayne Benowitz is a Fury crewmember and freelance writer working on her debut novel. For more travel stories and a daily dose of what’s cool around the globe visit her Wanderlust Website at http://web.me.com/shaynebeth.

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