Of course I know that diving is different from swimming, but I swim like a FISH, I love the water, it’s my second home. My dream has always been to dive – dive with the sharks. But that dumb doctor said I have asthma! Ha! I’ve never had a problem with my breathing, but when I went for the dive check, the bloody doctor refused to give me the medical certificate.
At least I can try out the scuba gear, though, in the aquarium tank. They let anybody dive in there, because it’s only a few metres deep. This is not the ocean, but it’s cool to use the scuba stuff. We get some instructions on top of the tank. Seems pretty straightforward. Then we jump in the pool, go underwater, check our breathing, and swim like fishes ourselves through a small hatch and into the marine aquarium. Fishes everywhere! It’s fabulous. Our instructor, Abby, is wearing bright pink so she’s easy to spot. We follow her over the clear perspex viewing tunnel. I can see my sister and girlfriend down there – we wave. In the centre of the aquarium Abby points to a perspex screen and I crouch behind it with the two others. One of the others is a strong swimmer like me, but the second one, a girl, seems a bit weak. Still, what can go wrong in five metres of water?
Abby starts the shark-feeding – wow! She takes dead fish from a bucket and waves them in front of the cruising grey nurse sharks. They slide over us like shiny submarines, as perfect a shape as an aerodynamic porsche, their scaly sides missile grey, their gills opening and closing. Their teeth are drawn back into their receding mouths. Abby shoves the dead fish at them. Some take a bite, but they seem uninterested. These are well-fed aquarium fish. Sharks are much-maligned, in my opinion. Everyone paints them as the bad guys, but they just feed as nature intended. They don’t kill anywhere near as many people as you’d think. More people die from a coconut falling on their head than from shark attacks. People should just keep out of the ocean at shark feeding time, dawn and dusk. After all, they are the top of the predator food chain. Magnificent animals.
After the feeding session, Abby leads us around the big tank. Port Jackson sharks, big rays, wobbledegongs, thousands of tiny schooling fish. I’m loving it. I find the scuba gear easy to use. I have no trouble breathing at all.
Over to my left I see a school of silver bream flash past. Out of the corner of my eye I notice that weak swimmer, the girl. She looks like she’s in some kind of trouble. I turn in the water, my limbs pushing through the liquid in slow motion. Abby is headed towards the girl, who now looks like she’s in real trouble. Abby is dragging her towards the exit hatch, fish scattering everywhere. Oh no! Now the stupid girl has taken her mouthpiece out! She could drown! Abby drags her out the exit hatch and I can’t see them any longer.
Later, when we’re all out and dry, I hear that the girl has been taken to hospital. I ask Abby, ‘why did she take out her mouthpiece?’
‘She panicked because she couldn’t breathe properly,’ said Abby. ‘She has asthma.’