Walking the shark

The shark, Hemiscyllium halmahera, uses its fins to wiggle along the seabed and forage for small fish and crustaceans – ‘walking shark’ discovered in Indonesia – The Guardian

I caught up with the shark as he was promenading off Bali the other day and he was in a bit of a rueful mood. ‘Wiggle? I ask you, do I wiggle?’ he mewled, sounding aggrieved and displaying several rows of sharp teeth in what I initially mistook for a threat but later realised was just his way of sneering. He distractedly masticated a bucketful of small fish and crustaceans that the bountiful seas of Indonesia deposited straight into his mouth as if from a conveyor belt. We pulled up some rocks around a tabletop of coral and sat down to chew the fat for a couple of minutes. ‘Oooh, big deal, a walking shark,’ he snorted. ‘As if we hold the presses every time we see an underwater human or one that has a decent taste in sushi.’ With one swell bite he took the side off a passing grouper, loudly saying ‘yummy’ and looking very pleased with himself. ‘Listen, this whole walking thing is a bit of a scam. Of course we prefer to swim, have you tried walking at this depth?’ He did a comical impression of maneuvering a giant umbrella into a hurricane. ‘We just do it to blend in.’ I nodded understandingly, ‘right, to avoid the shark fin hunters.’ The sitting shark growled at me contemptuously, ‘Most of those supposed fins are flippers that we tear off gormless divers like you and then stick to our backs. Ever wondered why they taste so rubbery? No, we walk to avoid having to bribe the coast guard. They suspect that we sharks make money posing for tourists and they want their cut. It confuses them when we walk. But thanks to that bloody newspaper article, they’re on to us.’ I nodded sympathetically, ‘yes, I wish the press would mind its own goddamn business.’ We silently watched the fish trying to scramble away from us for a while, the shark contemplating the vagaries of life and me enjoying the oxygen as an underwater hubbly bubbly. ‘You’ve got a bit of seaweed stuck to your upper lip,’ I solicitously pointed out to the shark. He scowled at me, ‘that’s my version of a holiday beard, having no chin and all. Actually, after having seen Jeremy Paxman’s attempt, I think I’m doing rather well,’ he said a bit smugly. ‘Sorry,’ I blurted, trying hard not to stare. ‘So, where did you summer this year?’ The shark sighed and gave its version of shrugging its shoulders, which would have been the subject of another excited article had any scientists or journalists been around: a shrugging shark! ‘We went to see my cuz in the Med. The place has become a dump,’ he answered disgustedly. I nodded in agreement, ‘yes all the tourist development can get a bit much.’ Once again the shark looked at me as if he’d run in to an uncomprehending mollusc that could not be eaten and had to be endured. ‘No, no. It’s just that on the European side they always used to dump lots of good stuff into the sea. Whole sides of beef sometimes in Greece. Those guys knew how to waste their souvlaki on a grand scale. But now, nada!’ I wanted to point out that he was mixing his Greek and his Spanish but thought better of it; you don’t want to annoy a shark, not even a walking one. He wasn’t done yet with his holiday gripes. ‘And off Syria, where we often used to find these bodies floating in the sea, as if they were executed by some madman but never mind, I got the most horrible chemical taste in my mouth and I was sick for days. I tell you, that ruined my break well and truly.’ I tutted in sympathy, ‘well at least you’re OK now and back home safe and sound.’ The shark started getting up from the rock he had been squatting on, ‘Yes, back to the grind of freaking out tourists.’ As he ambled away he called over his shoulder, ‘I’ve had it with Europe and the Middle East. Next year I’ll focus more on Asia, so catch you here again if you’re around.’ I watched him wiggle away, yes he did wiggle, and resolved firmly to stay home next year; who wants to hang out with a grumpy, hungry and sick shark, with blisters on its fins to boot?

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