When I first told my family that I would be feeding sharks, everyone, especially my mom, thought I was crazy. In Fiji, some believe in a shark god named Dakuwaqa, so they respect the sharks. But growing up here, we mostly heard about sharks as man-eaters, and something to avoid. We certainly didn’t think of them as something you would want surrounding you, but that’s what happens to me every week.
I’m a shark feeder for Aquatrek, and we work near the island of Beqa, close to Fiji’s largest island of Viti Levu. Three times each week, visiting divers kneel behind a rope on the bottom at 80 feet down to watch the sharks and me. We have eight species that come for the fish heads I hand out, including bulls, lemons and silvertips.
People love to see the huge tiger sharks, which can be 16 feet long or more. We give them names like Scarface and Big Mamma. They have a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, but they are much gentler than most realize. When I feed the tigers, I like to tap their bellies as they come by. I love when they get the food — a mother shark can go on that for weeks, and it helps make her babies healthy.
Sharks don’t scare me because I have learned so much about how to work with them. But I guess sometimes I do get a little nervous when I have handed out all the fish I carry in my basket, but there still are bits of food all around me in the water, and the bull sharks are darting this way and that.
I have to watch every movement when I am feeding the sharks. I will see them coming from different directions, but when one swims toward me, I know he saw me and that I can give him the food. My timing has to be just right. The new ones behave differently. They are very shy at first, so it takes a while before they know the drill.
I love what I do. If I get sick or we have to cancel a dive because of bad weather, I miss the sharks. Not many people get to do this. I know that I’m not crazy — I’m privileged.