Swimming with Hammerheads

by Carlos Eyles
Summer 2008

We have been in the water 40 minutes, still searching for the elusive school that has begun to feel more like a myth. Jack is lying on a ledge, at 65 feet, looking out over the abyss. I am on the surface recapturing my breath. He is looking south, but from the north, slightly above him drift several hammerheads. He doesn’t see them. More follow behind. They are swimming at eye level to him. Still he doesn’t see them. Silver bodies begin to pour out of the blue gloom. Finally, when he rises and sees them for the first time, they fill the ocean around him, more than could be imagined, impossible to count – at least 60, probably more. The school is loose-knit and spreads 30 feet deep, 50 feet across and well over 100 feet long. Momentarily mesmerized, I regain my senses, pump up and dive. Once down 20 feet, my view sharpens and broadens, and the breadth of the school stretches out over the abyss with sharks of all sizes fading into the haze 70 feet away. Dropping to 60 feet and nearing the edge of the school, I hover and take a few photos. The hammerheads have not flinched, and I am drawn deeper toward them. Photographs are forgotten as they are now very close, not 10 feet away, and I expect them to veer away en masse at any moment.

I drift and swim alongside, then on impulse, I slowly bank into the midst of the school. In moments, sharks are within a few feet of me in all directions.

Drifting in the vortex of the school, I'm pulled along, barely kicking on their slipstream. The sharks, now just inches away, are aware of me. Details emerge: silver sides glow and their backs are shades of gray and brown. Their hammerheads are scalloped in front and their eyes follow me with a tilt of the head. Scars around the heads and torsos underscore the rigors of their journey.

Time has stopped. Breath-hold forgotten.

I am of the school.

We move as one, the school and I connected.

Wholly alive, unafraid.

Moving in the suspended world of the unimagined, as if in dream, slow and clear, a part of some mysterious whole that has included me into its tribe.

Running with wolves beneath the sea.

Not a single animal has flinched. I do not know how long I have been down, but a gentle nudge informs me it's time to breathe again.

Gently, so as not to hit and disturb any hammerheads with my fins, I bend up and away, then make the long trek to the surface. Now, as if coming out of a trance, I realize it is very deep, 75 feet. Though beyond my comfort level, I am relaxed and incredibly energized. There is ample strength in my legs on the ascent. Jack, who ascended then dove again, is also rising. We see each other from a distance and shake our heads at the absolute wonder of it all.

In the evening during dinner, Jack barely manages a word. His silence speaks volumes as our eyes catch for a moment, and then fall to our plates. Pam, nervous in the hush, jabbers on about the sharks, but the experience has separated her from us and no amount of talk can close the gap. After dishes, I crawl into my bunk and fall directly to sleep.

About the Author

Carlos Eyles is a writer, having published eight books, and a professional underwater photographer. He and his wife Margaret free dive and surf and live on the Big Island of Hawai`i. Check him out at carloseyles.com.