10 May, 2015    #44

Queen Conch

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Continued from Trax News #43


Navigating down the spiraling steps inside the lighthouse column was much more frightening than my recent ascent.  As I was previously pulled up by curiosity, now looking down, I began to contemplate what might happen if I slipped and plunged down the shaft.  Splat! Right on the floor, while waiting friends witnessed my untimely demise.  Approaching the bottom, my steps quickened in order to conceal the fear behind a welcoming smile.


Once outside, we carefully repositioned the damaged entry door to look normal and headed back to our boat to explore the outline of the sunken vessel seen from atop the lighthouse.  Setting anchor about 50 meters north of the reef, we splashed into water with a white sand bottom, as I had described.  To our surprise, we were flying above a lifeless desert.  Without the protection of the coral, reef fish felt vulnerable to predator attack, and therefore avoided this area altogether.


Excitement rapidly faded into disappointment, as the group hovered weightlessly while scanning the sandy bottom for any hint of a sunken hull.  It wasnít long before I found myself as the loan searcher while others meandered off towards the reef.  I believe it was like trying to find the image of the man in the moon while standing on the moon.  Anyway, my credibility was eroding into an incredible fantasy as I continued the search.


After several minutes, I decided to head back and join the others as I could see their snorkel spurts in the distance.  Evidently, the ocean currents had separated us more than expected.  Not to worry, as I calmly finned my way towards the group.  Intermittently, verifying my position and observing the sandy bottom, I noticed a large Queen Helmet Conch slinking across the sandy sea floor.  Wow!  This was the largest conch I had ever seen.


Without knowing that curiosity sometimes abruptly shortened the lives of cats, I continually watched the helmet shell and patiently waited while catching my breath.  Then with a single burst of energy, I thirsted my body vertical and dove straight towards the queen.   On the way down I had to equalize pressure in my ears and mask while managing my spear gun.  Grabbing the shell by the helmet rim with both hands, the creature contracted into the safety of the shell as I pushed off the sand bottom.  Not immediately noticing that the sun was no longer at full strength, I slowly began ascending to the surface with the queen.  This was going to be a good day after all!


As I continued towards the surface, the attenuated sunlight, subconsciously attributed to clouds, was now recognized as the shadow of a very large shark.  The monster had to be 4 or 5 times my length and was directly above me!  The queen was no longer a priority and now it was fight or flight!  I actually canít remember what I did at that moment.  However, I instantly relinquished the queen, dropped my spear gun and somehow surfaced to breath.  I do remember yelling to my friends Ö SHARK, SHARK!   Get out of the water!


Of course, there is no such thing as a 20 or 25 foot shark in the Florida Keys, so once everything calmed down, my credibility continued to slide down the scale towards insanity.  Considering myself lucky to be alive, I convinced my friend Bobby to retrieve my spear gun since I wasnít about to provide the shark with a second chance.  We then headed home after a fantastic day.


Years later, while watching Jacques Cousteau on TV with my sons, I finally saw the shark that cast its shadow and raised my blood pressure to the boiling point.  It was a 30 foot basking shark, a harmless, ocean wandering filter feeder.   Even though I was never in any real danger, curiosity seems to be a universal trait, and not just confined to humans and cats!





Mike Kohut, President, DDMS




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