For a few months during Spring each year, our favorite dive site, La Jolla Cove, becomes the breeding grounds for the Sevengill Shark. These mysterious sharks can grow up to 10 feet (~3.3 meters) in length, and patrol the kelp beds and sea grass searching for prey and a mate in San Diego waters.
Most sharks have five gill slits, and the Sevengill has; you guessed it, seven. This makes it the only extant family of Notorynchus, along with other sharks dating all the way back to the Jurassic Period (200-145 million years ago), who also had seven gill slits. And perhaps this is why it has an absolutely ancient look. They have also been known to hunt in packs!
These sharks "have a large, thick body, with a broad head and blunt snout. The top jaw has jagged, cusped teeth and the bottom jaw has comb-shaped teeth. It's single dorsal fin is set far back along the spine towards the caudal fin, and is behind the pelvic fins. In this shark the upper caudal fin is much longer than the lower, and is slightly notched near the tip. Like many sharks, this sevengill is counter-shaded." - Wikipedia
Also known as the Cow Shark or Mud Shark, the Broadnosed Sevengill is a threatened in most of the world, caught as bycatch and fished for it's meat and fins.
"The International Shark Attack File considers this shark to be potentially dangerous because of its proximity to humans, and because of its aggressive behavior when provoked. It has also been noted as being aggressive towards divers in both public aquariums and in the wild among spearfishermen. Human remains were also found in one specimen's stomach therefore divers should be wary of this shark. Six attacks on humans by the broadnose sevengill, the latest being in 2013 in New Zealand, have been recorded since the 16th century, with no known fatalities." - Wikipedia
So I had heard that the cove was a hot spot for these sharks. Diving the cove regularly, I was excited and a little anxious to have my first moment with these mammoths. I had three encounters over the last few months, and the last is the encounter I will go into detail with below. The first two encounters were simple passes with the animals where they quickly ran off and wanted nothing to do with me. The last encounter.... That was the one to write about.
Started out like any other day doing tours at Zach's Scuba Shack. I checked the conditions. Conditions were exceptionally calm and clear this day in late June. I unloaded and prepared the gear.
I met with the guest, a bright, cheery young woman from Canada who had never dove in the Pacific or any cold water experience. We got on our gear and proceeded to get in the water and enjoy our surface swim to the dive site. Judging off how good the visibility was in the cove, I knew this was going to be a good dive.
Dropping in, my presumptions were correct. We had 15-25 foot visibility, which is a A+ day for us in San Diego. We inspected some Nudibranch's along the rock walls, some spiny lobsters under the rocks, spotted a large Banded Guitarfish, and then we headed out in a Northerly direction to get to the kelp forests.
The Giant Kelp Forests are the highlight of our tours, being that kelp forests are not common in other parts of the world. In columns of the giant algae, divers can fly through 40+ feet of kelp strands that anchor from the ground and stretch all the way to surface.
When we came into the kelp forest, I remember feeling so relaxed. My guest was a good diver, which took a lot of the load off of tour guiding. My breathe work was now calm and calculated. I felt so grateful and full of where I was. Flying among giant kelp, breathing underwater, showing someone something I loved so much. That diving was what my job was that morning, and how I adored the experience of what I was doing so much in that moment.
And that was when I encountered my third Sevengill Shark.
This time, the shark didn't spook off or turn around at all. Not at all. This time the shark didn't speed up at all. Didn't change direction. He just kept swimming right past me. I slowly pulled out my Gopro camera, and managed to get a video clip of him swimming past me off into the blue. He was huge. Easily 7+ feet long. (I know it was a he because of his clasper fins.)
I remember seeing the freckles on it's face. I got to look deep into it's eyes. I felt it's demeanor clearly, and this is what it told me:
"I am not interested in you outside of sheer curiosity. I am not threatened by your presence in my world. I do not want to eat you. I am another inhabitant of the sea, just like you. Do not eat me. I am on my way, and wish to pass. Nice to meet you. and to have this brief, exciting interaction. " - Sevengill Shark
The above ^^ is what the shark said to me as he slowly passed. His tail barely swiping side to side as he gently continued on his way. Off into the blue he went. And I was left with an ecstatic burst of adrenaline, conveyed only to my guest as me screaming, laughing and giving her underwater high fives and "shakas."
My guest was very thrilled as well with the encounter. I don't know if she quite realized how monumental it was for me. I had been eagerly and anxiously seeking this moment each dive for over a year. I knew it was just a matter of time before I ran into some of the bigger locals to the Cove, and sharks always intimidated me from stories of shark attacks.
I was curious what my reaction would be to this encounter. And I was joyfully happy that I was able to hold it together and remain collected and just feed off the splendors of the moment.
I believe that our relaxed energy directly preceding the interaction was what defined the sharks behavior with us. Had we been flailing about erratically or had been energetically 'loud', I don't think the shark would have even let us see him. To me, this encounter happened this fluidly because our energies were calmed, showing a non-threatening confidence I am sure sharks can detect.
As usual, I gather insight and collect behaviors from my diving experiences that benefit me on land. So many lessons I gain under the surface. And this lesson of the Sevengill was a simple lesson on energy and reciprocity.
Having mindfulness in the energy you put out (output) into the world is the defining factor of the energy we receive when that energy is eventually reciprocated (input).
This principle is sort of like the Law of Thermodynamics that states every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Doesn't matter what you're interacting with, your output will be directly correlated with the input returned.
A profound philosophical concept taught to me by a Sevengill Shark. Animals are notoriously good at feeling more than us humans (which are animals too.. I know). Most animals are not seemingly plagued by nearly so many advanced thoughts, which sometimes get in the way of us "feeling" as much as we could.
Maybe we think to much? Maybe we don't trust our instincts enough and second guess everything with our thoughts. We are surely "over-thinkers", and perhaps"unsatisfactory feelers."
Whatever the case, it is important to be mindful of such things. I was, and remain extremely grateful to have had this encounter with this Shark. And as always, I am humbled in the presence of the Mother Ocean. Thank you Mother Ocean for allowing me safety and passage among all of your inhabitants. For all of your great lessons in very brief moments, I am eternally yours in servitude.