Tuesday, May 27, 2008

George Is Alive & Well, Except For His Cataract!

***WARNING - If you're squeamish, you might not want to read about today's adventure!***
This is George, the legendary resident of Wing Beach. George is a 6' green moray eel that has been inhabiting the little holes along the underwater cliffline near the crevasse for the past 12 years at least. At least I think it's still the same old George. If it's not, he's not owning up to it, and I'm not about to call him a liar, especially after this past weekend. Now if I had the training and eye that Dr. Mark Robertson has, I would have probably noticed George's cataract right away and made a mental note that his sight probably wasn't very good on his right side as that eye was all clouded over. But sadly I am not Dr. Mark Robertson, and I didn't happen to be diving with him yesterday.There were a bunch of Japanese divers in the crevasse who had taken the boat out to Wing Beach. Here you see their dive guide putting on a show and blowing air rings for them. I figured it looked pretty cool and decided to take a few pictures of it as well. But as is usually the case, all the Japanese divers missed the little octopus hiding in a hole on the bottom, and they also all missed George, which is really too bad because George is usually a very gracious photo subject and poses quite nicely. You will notice I said "usually". Once I found George on the cliff line tucked into the same hole that the bubble coral Plerogyra sinuosa is in, I just camped there and started snapping away. Just for the record at this point, I'd like to point out that I have never fed George Vienna Sausages, and have never thought it was a very good idea.When eels open their mouths like this, I have never taken it as a threating gesture, I just figured they were proud of their shiny white teeth and liked to show them off. Plus it also provides an opportunity for the cleaner shrimp and wrasses to give them a dental check up. So I've always tried to time my shots to catch them like this, I just thought it looked cool. George and I spent about 5 minutes together, me taking pictures, him posing being a show off. Then George swam away and went down under a rock in the bottom of the crevasse. I thought he was playing follow the leader, so I obediently followed him over and took a few more pictures. At that point, George was coming up and rubbing against the camera and my hand, so I figured he was trying to show me that he wanted to be friends. Now again, in the picture above you can clearly see his cataract, and I'm sure my buddy Mark could have pointed that out to me, but again, he wasn't there, I had Barry instead. My medical training is limited to knowing to yell when I see blood, which did wind up coming in handy in a couple minutes.Right after I took this picture, in which you can clearly see his cataract, George was coming up rubbing against the camera and my hand, so I figured he was trying to tell me something. I put the camera down and just held my left hand out to show him I wasn't going to do anything to him. He came up and sniffed it a couple times, and rubbed it a little bit, then he started to turn his head away, which meant he was looking at me with his bad eye. Now a smarter person, like Mark Robertson for example, probably would have realized that meant he couldn't really see what was going on at this point. But I chalk it up to the fact that I'm not a trained opthalmologist that it never occured to me that might be a problem. All the sudden old George lunged and bit two of my fingers, and when I say bit, I really mean ripped the crap out of them and crunched down to the bone. Fortunately for me, I think it was just a friendly warning because he immediately let go and went back down to his hole. Moray eels tend to hang on for the fight when they bite, so I was counting my blessings. He did it so fast there was no way I could have reacted. However once he bit me I did react and let out quite a yell. Now you can speculate as to what I said if you'd like, and Barry can't prove anything because I yelled it through the regulator. But I think it gave poor old George a fright as well so he backed off and let go.I looked at the wounds, and while they were definitely bleeding (oozing green stuff, which is the color of your blood at 90 feet underwater), I wasn't terribly concerned at this point and didn't figure there was any point ruining a perfectly good dive, after all, we still had plenty of air. So I balled my fingers into a tight fist and swam along the underwater cliff continuing to look in more holes. It was after about 5 minutes that I felt a tug at my fin, it was Barry trying to get my attention. As I started to turn back to look and see what he wanted, I all the sudden saw a 6' white tip reef shark swimming along by my side. He was a couple feet away from me, and I had an awesome view of him. The first thing to pop into my head was that this would make an awesome picture or video, so I started trying to get my camera in the right mode. As I undid my fist, a big cloud of green blood filled the water where I was. Now it still didn't dawn on me that the blood might be the reason the shark was visiting so closely, or that releasing a big cloud of it could be a problem. I was intent on getting some awesome pictures, right up until I noticed my camera housing had fogged and I couldn't take any pictures. I was so bummed. Here I was within a couple feet of this magnificent shark and I couldn't take any shots of it.

I don't really know what was going through Barry's mind at that time, but I'm fairly certain that he wasn't as concerned about getting a picture as he was of keeping that shark at a safe distance. Once I knew that I couldn't film him, I just watched him in awe as he swam up ahead a little bit, then came back toward me and headed back down the underwater cliff line. All of the sudden it dawned on me that it might not be coincidence that I had such an up close and personal encounter with this shark, maybe he was tracking my blood and wanting to get a closer look at a potential dinner. Then it dawned on me that this was the only place I'd ever seen a Tiger Shark, and that if I attracted one of them, they might be more inclined to investigate the source of the blood more thoroughly. So then I decided I should probably quit horsing around and get in where I didn't have to worry about a shark sneaking up on me. Everytime I would open my hand it would be another huge green cloud of blood, which Barry had to swim through as he was behind me. We had a few minutes of deco time to burn off, but got out of the water safe & sound. Once we got out of the water, Barry said he thought I was the ultimate dive guide, sacrificing my fingers to a moray eel, so there would be blood in the water so he could finally see a shark in the water. I like the sounds of that story, it sounds much better than me just being an idiot and getting bitten. And it just adds more mystique to the whole Axe Murderer Tours legacy. So the official version of the story is that the Axe Murderer will do anything to guarantee a great dive.This is the bottom of the finger, you can see where the rows of teeth sunk in, and yes, it hurts as bad as it looks.