Our recent boat trip with a group of NSS members turned out far more eventful than expected as we stumbled upon a pair of coral catsharks that were being sold at the Tanjung Luar fish and market and that were still breathing. The instinct of wanting lives lived kicked as I hastily asked for the price and asked the group if we should buy and release the sharks. The hesitation of encouraging the fishermen to eventually catch sharks like that purely to be sold to us next time kicked in briefly, but the wanting for the sharks to live came through stronger so we purchased the pair for idr20,000 and a pail for idr15,000 and asked for some water.
Oliver of the group was, in a most touching way, all protective and caring for the sharks, making sure the pail was well taken care of until we brought it on the boat.
Eager to release the sharks, I lost all logical and scientific thought of allowing the sharks to acclimatise back to the waters first and we tried to release them in the first snorkel site which proved too deep for the sharks. We brought the first shark in the water and it turned out to be a boy with his claspers. Still weak and unable to swim, Oliver carefully and gently held on to him and massaged him to allow him to regain his strength as he breathed slowly unable to move yet. We decided the other shark needed to go back in the water fast too ( I found out it was a girl) but in my haste for her to be back in the water again, I dropped her from height and she fell to the bottom of the reef, lifeless. Kevin dived under instinctly to pick her up again but when she got to the surface, bits of gunk came out of her mouth and she stopped breathing. I couldn’t stop crying as I passed her lifeless body to Agus to put her back in the boat again. We also noticed she had a deep hook wound gash at the neck area as well as a reddened abdomen already though but it was still incredibly sad to lose her.
I composed myself and went to Oliver who was still patiently massaging the boy shark who was still breathing but not moving. I told him then that we should probably bring him back to the boat and try again from the beach so he would have time to swim from shallow waters. He agreed and we took the boat to Segui Beach.
Once we beached at Segui, PJ took him out and the moment he touched the waters, he started swimming, much to all of our amazement and excitement! He swam about the beach and our boats for a long time, even prancing around our feet, as if in gratitude to us (were we being anthropomorphic there?) before he swam away to deeper waters. We were all in awe of his renewed strength and I think none was happier than Oliver.
After the release, Oliver and I took the lifeless body of the girl shark to the shore, dug a deep hole in tears and buried her in the sand, praying for a good rebirth for her.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the 2 of them the rest of the day and how emotional the day was for me. If one life can be saved, why not save it?
The experience was so bittersweet with one death and life saved and I think I have really learnt the grave importance of patience in life saving, and that bottom dwelling sharks need to be released from the shore to give them time to swim from shallow to deep waters should an experience like that present itself again on another trip. More importantly, seeing the boy swimming free reinforced in me the love to work closely with sharks more and more. This journey has been fulfilling to say the least, in the last 3 years, and I have come to see more light in the arduous path even if I won’t see the results in my lifetime.
Watch him swim free here: