Swimming with Sharks

Have you ever noticed how memorable events in your life start out innocently?

That’s how I ended up swimming with sharks and a lot of other ocean dwellers in the open ocean tank at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

I was on a conference call with several other UNC-TV producers and the staff at the aquarium when Maylon White, the Aquarium director, suggested I get in the tank.

“Sure,” I exclaimed, “That would be a great part of the program!”

The plan was set. It didn't start to hit me until after the call when a colleague asked, “Do you realize what you just agreed to do?”

Now fast forward a few weeks. As I was trying to climb into a wetsuit (they are extremely tight and not very slippery), putting on fins, mask and a snorkel (easier to do when in the water) and swimming through a door into the tank, that it hit me.

Graveyard of the Atlantic at NC Aquarium on Roanoke IslandSuddenly, there was a nurse shark, sand tiger and sandbar sharks all around me. Seven sharks call the tank home. I was a visitor.

I held my breath before finally taking a deep breath, and started slowly kicking. 

I wasn’t scared, although the sight of shark teeth was a bit unnerving.

Instead, I was mesmerized. The creatures are so beautiful, so graceful and so silent. Just gliding along and looking at me! Instinctively, I stopped moving. I guess I thought that way the shark wouldn’t see me. Later in the day, after I was out of the tank, Education Coordinator Beth Wilcox told me that divers are trained to float still and keep an eye on the shark when one is nearby.

Gradually, I became more comfortable. I waved to the aquarium visitors watching through the window.  I became more adventurous with the GoPro camera I carried. I enjoyed the silence, the light flickering on the bottom, the fish gliding past me. Even the sight of sharks swimming next to me and below me was fascinating. The ocean dwellers and I shared a marine world for just a few minutes. I was always cautious, but it was wonderful.

— Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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