Feeding sharks is one of those times in my life that I can’t help but be totally present.
At home, I am used to having a lot of time totally to myself, have a small close circle of friends, and am quite a light sleeper. Because of this, the Sharklab can be a bit of a challenging place for me. Here, 18 of us live and work and sleep all in the same space 24/7. There is rarely a moment when anyone is alone, and even lying in my bunk at night I can hear chatter in the lab next door, the rustle of roommates settling in for the night, or footsteps in the hall. I have at times found this constant company overwhelming and have relied more than ever on mediation to maintain a sense of peace within myself.
If you’ve ever dabbled in meditation, you’ll know that the basic principle is trying to stay in the present moment. This happens effortlessly from time to time in all of our lives when we are engrossed in a task or when we are blown away by something stunningly beautiful. That level of presence, focus, and peace can be difficult to attain in today’s distraction-riddled world, but I’ve certainly felt it while feeding our semi-captive sharks.
Here at the Sharklab, we have a pen that holds juvenile lemon sharks, nurse sharks, and southern stingrays. The sharks allow tours to be able to see live specimens up close and teaches us volunteers how to safely handle sharks before we go out to do fieldwork. They are kept for a maximum of three weeks to prevent the sharks from getting used to people, and all of the animals kept in the pen are measured and have biological samples taken for research before they are released back into the wild.
On this particular day, I am standing in waist deep water with a bucket of bloody, cut up grunt with eight sharks and a big southern stingray circling around my feet and searching for food. The little lemon sharks are fierce and swim in a quick and direct way towards me as soon as the bloody fish hits the water, and the nurses bump at my ankles searching for a morsel. Last time I fed the sharks, I got startled and kicked up sediment and retreated to shallower water to put my mind at ease. Today I take my time and let the nurses glide over my feet, feel all the little bodies brush past my legs, and take my time handing out the food. Outside the pen, a much bigger lemon shark is circling and peering in. When all the fish is gone, I swim around the pen with the sharks before heading back up the beach, shivering and wet.
It is only once I’ve started to dry myself off that I notice how quiet my mind has been this whole time, and how refreshing it has been to have this moment of calm focus amongst the crowdedness of communal living.