Shark Attack in Baja


Tecolote Beach, La Paz,  Baja California Sur near where the attack occurred.



Steve Dresselhaus

Divers almost always approach  sharks hoping to get a better look at the sharks they encounter.  There is something primal, something compelling, something overpowering which like a tractor beam on Star Trek lures us in to get a better, closer look.  Rather than instantly  fleeing back to beach or boat, we generally  maneuver toward the swimming machines-of-death known as sharks.

This is my story.  It happened to me about five years ago while diving in the Sea of Cortez near  the city of La Paz in Baja, Mexico,  at a very popular swimming beach called Tecolote.    A few hundred yards west of the beach,   I was snorkeling in shallow water, maybe ten feet deep,   just off a rocky cliff.  The water was almost flat calm.  There was no current.  No waves.  Visibility was average for early summer, about 40 to 50 feet.   The cliffs dropped into the water,  planting their feet into a white sand bottom that spread seaward well past the edge of visibility . 

It was a perfect day.  Above me in the cloudless sky, pelicans, gulls, and  frigate birds  surfed the rising updrafts hurled skyward  by the  cliffs at the water’s edge .  In the near distance the occasional bark of a sea lion from the colony on San Rafaelito Island could be heard.  Below me  and around me in the water  swarmed schools of  ocean perch, mullet and sardines .  Solitary porcupine fish patrolled midwater, secure behind  their needle-pointed armor.  Racing schools of blue runners, jacks and ladyfish zoomed by, seemingly on their way to something important.  Occasional sea bass would hang out at the edge of visibility, fearfully assuming  that as a diver I carried  a spear gun.  Only on this day I had no spear gun.  I had no defenses.

And then I saw the shark.  At first I wasn’t sure but as I swam closer, the deadly , fearsome shape emerged  from the fog of distance and  became clear.  The high dorsal fin and the rigid, angled slightly downward slope of the pectorals were  an absolute  giveaway that the creature I was approaching was indeed  a shark. 

I should have been forewarned by the shark’s behavior as I edged curiously closer.  Generally, in fact almost always,  a shark will make a languid, gentle,  effortless glide away from  the diver.  This shark, however, did not flee from me nor did it glide away.  Instead, it fixed its unblinking gaze  on me.  It seemed to be staring right at me,  its ice cold eyes emitting no more emotion than a wood chipper.   The mouth did not shut, exposing several rows of  jagged teeth to the light of day.  Shark teeth, depending on the species, are often serrated  like a hacksaw blade.  Even their skin is covered with little teeth called dermal denticles.  Dried sharkskin used to be used as sand paper.  In every way imaginable, sharks are designed for two things: killing and eating.  They do both exceptionally  well.

Suddenly, without warning, the shark lunged, not away from me but directly at me.  I remember jerking away from the shark; but in  movement-slowing  water, a clumsy,  out of his element human is no match for the lightning fast attack of a shark.  Faster than my eye and brain could coordinate an image,  the shark was upon me, clamping its jaws shut on me.

 Sharks bite with hundreds of pounds of  pressure per square inch.  The muscle filled jaws exert a huge force,  concentrating it on the tips of the  pointy teeth.   These teeth  can with ease slice through human flesh like a hot knife through butter.   Not even large bones like the human femur can withstand the pressure   of the bite of a large shark.  As the teeth-filled jaws clamped down on my body  with all the strength and power the shark could exert, I clearly  remember thinking “This doesn’t hurt. I can hardly feel anything.”  I do remember feeling the pressure of the jaws closing on me as I clumsily tried to pull away from  my attacker but I felt no pain, none.   Going through my mind was the thought,  I have been attacked by a shark.  I am being bitten by a shark.

Suddenly the shark relented.  It eased its grip on me.  It only took the one bite  before releasing me and swimming off.  After the lightning fast attack, I was still whole, intact–arms, legs, torso– and I was able to swim back to shore unassisted. 

I slowly moved my hand in front of my diving mask to examine the middle finger where the shark had bitten me on the knuckle.  The skin was unbroken, unbruised,  unmarked,  about  what one would expect after being  bitten by a baby shark about a foot long which I had wakened from its slumber by tweaking its tail.  In an angry hissy fit the little beast  had turned on me and bitten my finger.

Was I attacked by a shark?  Yes.  Did it bite me? Yes.  Did I feel the pressure of the bite? Yes. Could I swim back to shore unassisted?  Of course.    Was the shark big or dangerous and did it bite me anywhere other than my finger?  No to all three questions.  I never said those things.  I told the absolute  literal truth in this story; but my intent was to make the reader think I had survived a near-death experience after being savaged by a massive great white.  Telling lies by speaking absolute literal  truth must be some sort of a pinnacle of human creativity.

We who self-identify as followers of Jesus must learn to tell the truth without misleading.  We who are macro Christians and who believe we have a role to play in making the world a better place today as well as into the future,  need to be very sure that what we tell people is accurate,  understandable and clear enough that it will help them find a better life through following Jesus.  Tricking someone into following Jesus through misrepresentation, manipulative content selection, exaggeration,  or  by making extra-biblical promises is not something we should be doing.  Neither must we bore or insult people with memorized, flow-chart-style,  prepackaged gospel presentations in which  we tell them what others have told us we should tell them.  To categorize people this way insults individuality, morphs them into targets, and  makes them feel like  a  cookie cutter product.    We want our words about Jesus to be exciting, personal and promising;  and they must also be true in both content and intent.

One day, as I was hiking along a dark , Tarzan-worthy  trail in the jungles of Venezuela where I grew up,  a snake, a deadly pit viper . . .

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