Feeding sharks in
captivity is by no means a safe job. Senior diver George Nally once had his
side laid open by a tank shark. Bob Griffin received "maybe 35 bites"
last year, and several small teeth are still embedded in his hands. But it was
on his very first feeding as an employee that Griffin had his closest call.
were out there watching," he said. "I really didn't know what to
expect, so I was just holding a mackerel in my hand and then this shark started
circling me. He charged and grabbed me by the weight belt, and shook me all
around the tank."
and hungry turtles can be hazardous, as can the moray eels, which occasionally
slither out of their giant clamshells and ooze about like green crepe paper.
"When two of them fight over territory, it's like something from a Japanese
monster movie," Griffin said. Even the sluggish jewfish are to be feared.
"One simply inhaled a 4�-foot shark once," said Lou Garibaldi.
"Whenever we add new fish we just assume the animals in the tank will take
their 20% to 30% off the top."
As in the sea, a
survival system has evolved and is maintained through degrees of fear, hunger
satiation and a defined pecking order. Myrtle the turtle "does what she
wants," but everyone else, even the 10-foot nurse shark who once had to be
removed on a stretcher after a confrontation with a turtle, watches his step.
"When one of the fish has been nailed during the night, the tension is so
strong the next morning even I can feel it," Griffin said.
The divers carry
no weapons to protect themselves but take care to keep their charges calm and
orderly. They dive punctually, avoid startling movements and try to make sure
every animal gets its fair share of the food.
One thing they
don't do anymore is serve herring. "That's when the sharks go berserk,"
Griffin said. "The last time I fed herring there were sharks hanging onto
my wet suit and clinging to my hair."
The point here is
that sharks, and other dangerous sea beasts, can be approached with a modicum
of safety if one has a good understanding of their motivations and behavioral
tendencies. "Cousteau said the only predictable thing about sharks is that
they will act unpredictably," Lou Garibaldi noted. "But they have their
reasons like any other animal. We just may not know all of the
divers such as Bob Griffin and Toni Pollack the understanding of tank
inhabitants reaches a more personal level. Just by observation they can tell if
certain fish are feeling chipper or not, whether they are hungry or diseased or
sexually aroused. The sharks are the toughest to read.
names to some of the animals with outstanding personalities," Griffin said.
"There's Morris the moray and, of course, my favorite, Myrtle. And in
another tank we've got an electric eel named Zap and some time ago we had a
sawfish called Black & Decker. But the sharks are different."
that have changed little with the passage of time, sharks react to basic
stimuli, if little else. Bob Griffin's hands are scarred and discolored from
punching them on the snouts or batting their emery-board tails to maintain
order. To really get a point across, he will drop his regulator and bite them
in a handy spot, generally a pectoral fin. He also bites the turtles. "They
communicate by biting," he explained. "And so can I."