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How to Talk to Non-Divers About What You See Underwater

"What did you see down there?" It's a simple question with a difficult answer.
By Patrick Webster | Updated On June 16, 2022
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How to Talk to Non-Divers About What You See Underwater


Diver Anne gazes upon the inner-space oddity of a sea pickle, blissfully unaware of the danger lurking topside.

Patrick Webster

Editor’s note: Introducing our newest columnist, Patrick Webster. In his new, freewheeling Ocean Oddities column, this bubble-blowing bard takes readers deep into the inner reaches of the underwater world—and the mind. Join him as he expounds and opines on the scuba diving life, from its simple pleasures to its profound mysteries.

“Hey, are you a diver?”

I freeze—somehow, someway, my cover’s been blown. I fumble with my towel, wetsuit tackling at my ankles as I meet the gaze of a sudden Parking Lot Intruder. There is nowhere to hide. I brace myself for the question I know will come next.

“So, what do you see down there?”

Frantic eyes scan for a buddy to share the err of this inquisitor, but I have been left to face the unexpected utterly alone, my buddy preoccupied with a full bladder and an urgent trek to distant facilities.

The man waves his kids over, pointing excitedly at the crusty scuba kit strewn about the pavement. This brief moment of respite helps me steady myself against the car’s open trunk and gather scattered thoughts. What do you see down there?

Kind sir, what don’t you see down there?! Today it was the astounding algal amphitheater of a giant kelp forest—but at any given time around this water world it could be a glorious garden of colorful corals; or the black-water drama of pelagic magic reporting on current events; schools of fish massive in scale; sea stacks plunging into the abyss and covered in sheer delight...

I mean, where do I start? Where could I conclude? Forgetting for a moment the caves and lakes and rivers—the sea is our planet’s calling card to the cosmos! The blue part is the primary feature of this particular speck of galactic dust! “Ocean” defines what it means to live on so-called “Earth”! And we’ve only just begun to—

“See any sharks?”

His interjection slices through my reverie like an uppercut, my mind reeling like an impatient safety sausage jetting to the surface. Sharks? Sharks?! I’d love to have seen one! In fact, sir, my abandoning buddy saw one and didn’t tell me— like, who does that to someone?... Wait—are you asking because someone scared you about the ocean? Oh no, oh no!

Um, uh... Yes, of course! There are sharks out there—but it’s not the story you’ve been told! Some of the most meaningful dives on the planet involve sharks and their ray-latives, and the mere possibility of coming face-to-face with such charismatic megafauna makes you feel alive like very few things can.

But! Consider that the shock value of the word “shark” refers only to jawesome fishes at a scale that matters to humans. What of the predatory drama of a sponge devouring plankton like a digestive barrel full of sea monkeys? The suspense of a ctenophore giving a close shave to a foraminiferan in a hairy situation? Or the terror of a nudibranch approaching a cowering carpet of bustling bryozoans? The distance between what we are told of the ocean and what it truly is, is far greater than—wait, what’s that? Oh, those words back there? Aha! Of the 31 phyla of organisms on the planet, 12 are strictly marine, meaning that there’s more life to life in the ocean tha—

“It’s like a whole other world out there, isn’t it? I’ve always wanted to check it out.”

“Oh, uh, yeah, it’s pretty great. There’s lots out there—no sharks today, sadly. Um, wanna see some pictures?”

“Oh, yeah! Check it out, kids. This is what’s out there!”

Crisis averted. Convert created. Codspeed and thank you, Parking Lot Intruder—may you someday find the little bit or lotta bit of the ocean that’s out there for you.