Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuna Wrestling & Shark Frenzies in the Tuamotus

Here's a snippet of daily life I wrote over Christmas in the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia:

"Mama, Mama look what Papa caught!" my son pulls me out of my chair and outside.

Josh and Heiarii are just pulling up to the dock in the aluminum skiff. Looking into the boat I can see a three-foot glimmering dogtooth tuna laying atop a good sized black trevally and two lagoon fish. Josh is smiling huge and Heiarii who's driving the boat looks happily entranced.

It's a grey 5:45 in the afternoon and the trade winds are blowing hard creating long rolls of swell that jostle the little boat before crashing as waves onto the coral gravel shore. We're in a house perched on a coral head about 100m out from the beach and the drone of the boat's motor is nearly drowned out by the loud surf and the wind rushing over the tin roof. It's chilly in a tropical sort of way, a way that makes you think about putting a T-shirt on over your swimsuit.

As they haul the fish and spear guns up onto the dock, Josh tells me the story of the hunt:

"It was a team effort. I shot the tuna in the jaw then Heiarri saw it was going to get loose so shot it in the side then grabbed it with both arms while it was thrashing and swam it to the surface. There were raira [grey reef sharks] everywhere!" I can see the adrenalin still pumping through Josh's eyes. Heiarii, always humble has a hard time hiding his stoke as well.

"So I bet you really feel like men now eh?" I say with a smile.

"Oh yeah!" Josh and Heiarii laugh and pound their chests.

The dogtooth tuna is so fresh it's still changing colors, it's iridescent silver and light blue skin sullied only by a black trickle of a line I assume is its own blood. It's beautiful with its eyes shining under the grey clouds, a truly majestic animal.

The guys get busy cleaning it and making fillets that we'll make sashimi and poisson cru from for the next several days. Heiarii saves some of the bones to make jewelry. They throw the guts into the water then my son calls me over quickly to the dock.

There are 20 or more sharks in a frenzy just next to the dock - about three feet down from the edge where we're standing. Never in the 20 years I've been hanging out in Ahe have I seen so many sharks in one place. Not only that they're huge, some over six feet, grey reef and black tips hammering into each other and making the water boil with their thrashing tails as they try to nab bits of tuna. We throw the bones in, more sharks come over from out of nowhere and the frenzy intensifies. We're safe up where we are but it's still instinctually petrifying watching them. Not only that but this is where we swim every day. After about half an hour the tuna carcass is licked clean and the lagoon looks peaceful again.

We make sashimi and, with the same fervor as sharks devour our dinner procured by our own hunters of the sea. I'm glad in a way we got to share the bounty. This is a tuna who's life definitely didn't go to waste.


  1. It was an amazing vacation that you had, how I wish I could do and go to some place like that. I never have seen sharks that close in my whole life, not only one but 20? Wow! It must be so breathtaking!
    Brad Fallon

  2. Try to go! You can see sharks almost anywhere in French Polynesia (almost guaranteed), Southeast Asia (a little harder to find) and in many, many other places really. They are pretty amazing to see. I hope you get to one day.
    Thanks for reading :-)

  3. You are welcome, it's nice to read interesting blogs like these. Keep it up!
    Brad Fallon



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