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Tiger Shark or Red Sea Rooster?

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University of Haifa geoarchaeologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Beverly Goodman

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… sends word from the Red Sea of a too-close encounter with a tiger shark—or was it a giant rooster?

Just wanted to tell you a little about my activities the past couple of weeks in the field. I’m on a research ship called the Mediterranean Explorer

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… which is collecting mapping data and sediment cores from the Northern Gulf of Eilat-Aqaba—the northernmost point of the Red Sea. The multinational project involves participants from Jordan, the U.S., and Israel, and EcoOcean was kind enough to provide the ship.

My job here is to collect sediment cores…

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… from water depths up to 40 meters (about 130 feet). It’s been going well, with lots of improvements now that we are using rebreathers and an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) so that people on the ship can track the work.

In any case, we had a rather funny moment yesterday (well, funny and scary). I was diving with a colleague named Timor Katz in Jordanian waters at a 32-meter (105-foot) collection depth.

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We were both working away on our tasks when I glanced up to check on him. He was about 10 feet away and all was fine with him. However, the very large object moving behind him gave me reason to pause.

A large shark—at least 14 feet long—was cruising no more than 10 feet behind my hardworking friend. It looked like a gigantic paper cutout on the blue background. Because Timor was busy and turned toward me, he didn’t see it.

I had his attention, so after pausing to remember, I finally recollected the “shark” sign—made by holding your hand on your head like a fin. I threw in some wide, panicky eyes to get the right effect.

He stared at me blankly and shook his head to let me know he didn’t understand. Meanwhile, I kept

an eye on the swimming torpedo as it slowly passed behind him. Again I signed, again no understanding.

I observed the distinctive stripes and head shape identifying the lurking animal as a tiger shark. I hoped I wouldn’t get to see its famous turn-on-a-dime attack mobility. At that moment, I regretted that the rebreathers were so quiet and didn’t have the scare-away effect that bubbles create with standard scuba

equipment. I also lamented the close resemblance between me in a rebreather and a large tasty turtle.

I glanced at the equipment on hand for possible weapons, then gave up on that idea and considered the possibility of climbing into our supply cage as if it were a mini shark protection unit!

In any case, the tiger shark went on its way. We were only at the 45 minute mark on what would be a two-hour dive. I spent the rest of our time in the water on the lookout for the shark’s return. Every little shadow or object touching me made me start and turn. My buddy, meanwhile, kept working away, blissfully ignorant of the recent danger.

Once we were back on deck, I told Timor about his close encounter. He was disappointed to learn that he’d been so close yet managed to miss seeing the shark, and finally had an answer to the question that had bothered him for most of the dive: “Why is Beverly giving me a sign for a giant rooster?”

Unfortunately, the ROV had not been positioned to capture the shark, but I’ve got a lasting image in my head of that beautiful creature moving, but seeming entirely motionless, across the blue backdrop.

We’ll be reviewing our underwater diving signals before any future dives. :)

Hope all is well! -Beverly

Sketch by Timor Katz, photos by Beverly Goodman (ship’s bow) and Steve Breitstein

Comments

  1. CarlReginald
    July 7, 2010, 11:11 am

    definitely a wide imagination.. cute picture.. that’s some team.. Jordan, US, and Israel.. it’s good to see on projects such as these that those 3 can all get along.. we need to really transcend those obstacles in the name of science, prosperity, and overall good will. Science and humanity is ultimately what will bring us together. Good post.

  2. goodmanbeverly
    May 3, 2010, 4:47 pm

    Yes! My dive buddy does have a wide imagination, and a poor grasp of dive signs!
    The cores will be used to understand how the environment has changed over time. Once the cores get to the laboratory, I’ll split them open, describe and record the visible changes in the core, then sample it for analysis inch-by-inch (cm by cm, of course!:)). The layers of sand in the core record a picture of what the environment looked like. For example, when there is more coral, you will see more fragments of coral in the sand. When there are more floods down the rivers you will see more fragments of river sand, and so on. While is isn’t nearly as exact as tree-rings, these inch-by-inch layers do represent time as well—the lowest part of the core is older than the upper part of the core. This way it is also possible to date the period of time when a certain environment was present.

  3. vanisher
    March 18, 2010, 2:47 am

    Nice work.. Anyway I want to know what do you do with the sediment cores?? LOL.. Your friend has a wide imagination… I wonder if where did he saw the aquatic giant rooster…. Hahaha… NIce one..

  4. vanisher
    March 18, 2010, 2:45 am

    Nice work.. Anyway I want to know what do you do with the sediment cores?? LOL.. Your friend has a wide imagination… I wonder if where did he saw the aquatic giant rooster…. Hahaha… NIce one..