Palmyra - A Walk with a Shark

Posted on August 29, 2012
Written by: Samantha Whitcraft
Tags: SharksCount Program 

First in a series about Shark Savers’ work documenting shark sightings in the Line Islands aboard Pangea Explorations S/V Sea Dragon

Palmyra, Line Islands, Equatorial Pacific - A walk along the beach from Strand Point to North Beach, Palmyra, is both epic and calming. The ubiquitous ruins from World War II have been conquered by nature; vines creep over old machinery and trees grow on top of crumbling bunkers, all within view of a shimmering Pacific lagoon.

I've traveled to many islands throughout the world's oceans and visited thousands of beaches, and yet this small coast of Palmyra Atoll stands out for having the precise criteria I seek for aesthetic and conservation perfection: sheltered location, pristine environment, picturesque landscape, and protected wildlife. Amazingly along the entire coast I found only ONE piece of plastic trash, a single Sprite bottle, while the rest of beach was covered with hundreds of coconuts, nesting terns, and native trees.

Whitcraft_Bitey.JPGAs I shuffled my feet through the impossibly-clear water, getting dizzy from the fairy terns fluttering around my head, I was startled by a splash at my ankle and looked down just in time to see a half dozen baby blacktip reef sharks dart across the sandy shallows - each less than a foot long, but perfectly formed, more like a miniature adult of its kind than a pup.

I grabbed my GoPro camera and submerged it to try to capture the moment, but the sharks would have no part of it. Repeatedly they seemed interested in my feet and ankles, but not the camera. I counted six of them, watched them swim off in formation, and continued my walk. I soon noticed that one of them was staying just ahead of me and whenever I would stop, the little shark would stop too and return to the area right around my feet.

Even when I left the water to take photos of a nesting red-footed booby and re-entered the water, my new friend was there, as if waiting for our walk to continue. I can't image what the attraction was. Were the little splashes and ripples made by my walking through the water the draw? Or perhaps I seemed like a larger predator that might produce food scraps after a catch?

My walk with a shark continued for almost an hour. I could always see the tiny black fin tip leading the way, cutting a tiny wake through the water. Just before I headed up the beach back to Palmyra base-camp, the little shark picked up speed and headed further down the coast. I took a photo and said goodbye.  .

I don't know if a beach-side stroll accompanied by a shark happens anywhere else, but at Palmyra it doesn't seem improbable at all.