One Day in Jamaica, This Happened…
“Just remember, don’t panic,” my fiancé Tom says to me as we sit on the dive boat skimming across the turquoise waters of Jamaica.
“Right,” I respond. “No panicking.” I pause. “Wait, is there something here to cause me to panic?” I pause again. “Do great whites live here?!”
I look at Tom in alarm and he gives me a “stop being ridiculous” look. I smile widely, trying to display that I was much braver than I felt. “I’ll be fine,” I say lightly. “This will be fun!”
And in truth, I was excited, but very nervous. It was my first time scuba diving since being certified a year and a half earlier, and my first experience diving in warm waters where I might actually see more than murky 55 degree water and drifting seaweed. Jamaica scuba diving was definitely going to be different and I wasn’t quite sure how I’d react to seeing a shark. Tom has assured me the reef sharks we may see are harmless, but I’m not quite so sure…
The boat stops and we gear up and jump in the water. Tom gives me an “ok” sign and descends. Not wanting to be left on the surface by myself (isn’t that where sharks always attack?) I quickly follow suit.
And it’s amazing! So many colorful fish and not a shark in sight. The ocean is quiet except for the slow rhythmic sound of my breathing and I find it surprisingly peaceful. I start to relax and focus on breathing in and out slowly as I was taught and am delighted to see colorful fish swimming below and beside me. I love Jamaica scuba diving!
I’m gently kicking my way alongside Tom a few feet above the reef when I feel a quick pain in my upper thigh. I look behind me in alarm but nothing’s there. I put my hand on Tom’s arm. “Something bit me,” I tell him, my voice sounding funny against the regulator. Obviously, he has no idea what I’m saying. He flashes me the “ok” sign again and I shake my head frantically. I look around but don’t see anything, but I know something bit me. Ok, don’t panic. My breathing is coming faster and faster – which, as I remember from my certification class, is bad – so I focus on breathing slowly. It was nothing, I reassure myself, I probably just brushed against something, maybe a bit of sharp seaweed floating beneath me…or….or a rough fish swam up against me…it’s fine…I’m fine…everything’s fi-
Suddenly a small little sea creature is swimming right in front of me, lunging forward at me. I squeal and try to move away from it, but it’s insistent, it keeps swerving around me and bumping into my arms and legs. It’s about the size of my hand and looks like a miniature shark. Is this thing attacking me? I squirm in the water upright, aware of the blue, expansive water around me. Images of flesh eating fish pop into my head. This doesn’t look like one of those at all, but I have no idea what it is! Staying in one place is not helping so I shoot away from the thing and begin swimming as fast as I can in one direction. The mini-shark-thing is swerving next to me, still trying to get a nibble of my arm. I quickly turn in another direction, coming back next to Tom and a couple other divers. The mini-shark-thing becomes interested in one of them, who has a wetsuit on so doesn’t seem quite as bothered. I swim away, breathing quickly. My heart is beating wildly in my chest. Stay calm, stay calm, you’re going to use up your entire tank, I tell myself. I will myself not to look back. If I don’t know the mini-shark thing is there then I won’t panic. And if it nibbles me again, it’s not like it hurt that bad, right? Everything’s fine.
About five minutes, and one more mini-shark-thing sighting later (he kept his distance luckily) the dive guide makes a motion to surface.
As soon as my head breaks through the water into the warm Jamaica air, I hear a women’s voice ask, “What was that thing?”
Good, I’m not the only one who thought that thing was crazy!
“It’s a Remora,” the guide replies. “It was trying to attach to you.”
After we’re on the boat, everyone is still talking about it.
“I saw it coming for you,” a lady tells me in an Irish accent. “I was hoping you’d look back.”
“Yeah, it bit me!” I say and show off the mark on my leg.
Tom looks at my leg with amusement. “Your scream could be heard underwater,” he says.
“I did not scream!” I say indignantly. “I shrieked…in surprise.”
“No, you definitely screamed.”
“Well, it surprised me. I didn’t know what it was and it looked like a shark!”
Tom agrees it looked like a miniature shark and peers at my leg again. “I think it more sucked you than bit you.”
A grin tugs at my lips. “I got a hickey from a fish,” I say. “And then had a panic attack about it. Oops.” I smile sheepishly, knowing I broke a major scuba diving rule.
Tom shakes his head in disbelief with a laugh. “Of course it had to get you during your first real dive. We’re getting you a wetsuit for tomorrow’s dive.”
The next morning at the dive shop, the rental guy informs me he only has full length wetsuits left.
“That’s fine,” I say and nod my head earnestly. “That will be more protection from the Remora fish!”
“Ah, they won’t bother you unless you bother them,” he says in a Jamaican accent as he takes down a wetsuit from the rack.
Um, no, I was just swimming along peacefully enjoying my Jamaica scuba diving experience and it attacked me! I don’t tell him this as he apparently thinks I’m a slightly paranoid tourist and instead smile and gratefully collect my wetsuit.
A short while later we’re in the water about to descend. I’m about a foot under the water when my little friend, the Remora fish, comes swimming up to me. It’s like it had been waiting for me!
I take a deep breath and remind myself it can’t suckle me today – I have a wetsuit on. I keep dropping beneath the water and lose sight of it. Haha, Remora, you can’t scare me today.
The rest of the dive goes wonderful. No panicking. No shark sightings, either, but I think I can handle it now!