The shark was so close it seemed to take longer perhaps than it actually did to pass my cage. I had time to look, hesitate and then reach out and grasp a clasper. It was like trying to slow a tank, but I did have the sordid satisfaction of knowing that for one brief instant I had held a ton or more of shark by one of its claspers. The shark didn't appear to notice. It slid on past my cage, displaying a muscular flank and, in finale, a handsome, crescent-shaped tail.
At this moment someone aboard our support boat Saori poured blood into the water ahead of the shark. The shark pushed its nose into the cloud. I have heard and read how sharks are attracted and excited by blood, and now I believe it all. The great white entered the blood and seemed to stop, to hover. Then it thrashed. As its head came out of the cloud, its jaws snapped. When great whites were attracted to our boat earlier that day, from on deck I had noticed they bit the first thing they found after passing through blood. They had attacked the cages, the propeller of our outboard, the Saori's propeller and rudder, as well as microphone wires, mooring lines and stainless-steel chum buckets.
The great white emerged from the blood and turned toward the beef bait. Its jaw opened wide, the upper lip raised as if in a snarl. Its black eyes rolled back as it clamped down on the beef. Then the shark seemed to pause as if its small brain were considering the worth of the beef. Its brain apparently satisfied, the shark clamped harder, then slowly threw its head from side to side. As it did so, the serrated edges of its teeth cut easily through meat and bone like a butcher's saw. Watching the beast, I remembered the pictures of Rodney Fox's back. A champion diver, Rodney had joined our expedition in Australia. Five years before, he had been bitten by a great white. I had seen pictures of the wound taken as he lay on the operating table. The shark had come in while Rodney's left arm was extended above his head. The teeth gripped in a crescent, cutting from the middle of his arm across the shoulder and chest to the bottom of his rib cage. The picture showed the neat, surgical slit made by each tooth on his back.
Seeing the shark tearing the bait now, and remembering the picture, I realized that Rodney's great white must not have given him a shake. If it had, the slits cut by individual teeth would have been joined and half his chest pulled away. The shark may have been put off by the taste or smell of the neoprene diving suit Rodney wore. It may have been deterred because Rodney was trying to gouge its eyes with his free arm. Whatever the reason, the shark dropped Rodney momentarily. When it returned to the attack, it swallowed a fish float he was trailing, giving Rodney time to climb into a waiting boat. Even so, Rodney nearly died. The great white's cursory bite broke three ribs, punctured a lung, tore his rib cage loose and mangled a hand and wrist. Lucky Rodney.
My shark turned toward the cage again. A great glob of mangled beef and bone hung half out of its mouth. The shark released the bait and opened its mouth wide and still wider. The whole jaw extended forward and out, seemingly disjointed like a snake's. The bait, all 30 or 40 pounds of it, hung between the jaws, framed for an instant; then it disappeared as though into a giant vacuum cleaner.
The great white skulked past my cage again, seeming to keep its black eye on me all the while. From beneath the cage another great white rose behind the first. Suddenly the first monster reacted. With three fast flicks of its tail the big one was gone. Apparently great whites do not like others of their kind in an attacking position behind and below.
I turned to look at Gimbel. Whatever this meant to me, it had to mean more to him. The door of his cage stood open. Peter hung in the door with his hand on the bars. He seemed on the verge of swimming out. I had been fearful of this moment long before we reached Australia. Before I left New York City, Peter had given me a copy of a surprising document: detailed advice to his lawyer of the way he would like his burial conducted. His imagination was apparently working over all the ragged possibilities.
Peter hung half out of his cage, watching as the second great white approached. When Peter stepped back, his scuba tank caught on the door, snagging him outside. The shark swam right for him. Peter gave a violent jerk at his tank. The strap broke loose, and he shrank back into the cage. The shark passed where Peter's head had been and bit the cage.
The final decision about swimming with the whites came just a few minutes after Peter and I returned to the surface. The other divers were preparing cameras and tanks for one last dive. Ron Taylor said, "You know, Peter, I think if we could be reasonably sure we were facing only one at a time, we could swim with those fellows."
The slightest smile touched the corner of Ron's mouth, a kind of suppressed smile you see on a small boy's face when he dares a buddy to walk a log across a stream. The question was not phrased as a challenge, but the smile tipped it off.