I am in a cage with my 12-year-old daughter, lowering, ever so slowly, into a tank full of sharks at the Georgia Aquarium. Ice-cold water meets my ankles and begins streaming inside my wetsuit boots. Then it reaches my neoprene-covered knees. I shiver and force myself not to look down—yet even straight in front of me, I see fins gliding above the water line. Down we inch, and the water has reached my chest. I grab my daughter’s hand. Through her face mask, I can see her widened eyes. In moments, we are fully submerged, a couple of humans sharing a pool with 18 underwater apex predators.
Inside my oxygen-infused face mask, my breath sounds like Darth Vader. Water cannot get in, but somehow my exhalations escape in bursts of bubbles. I adjust my eyes to the relative darkness. Thousands of tiny fish flash as they dart and turn in unison. I wonder how they pulled the short straw and got sent to live in the shark exhibit. Through my mask’s earpiece, I hear an aquarium safety diver point out a 250-pound tiger shark, one of three at the aquarium. It glides past, grinning rows of spiky teeth. Then comes a great hammerhead, which decides to circle our cage. Then it circles again.
I’m not any more terrified of sharks than the next person, but the sight of that guy and his wide-set eyes swimming inches from my daughter’s face does something to my biology. I picture myself yanking her by the arm, pulling her to the surface, swimming like hell to the nearest platform, and breaking into a run. Instead, I squeeze the cage’s railing and concentrate on my Darth Vader breathing. The hammerhead is just curious, our safety diver says.
I can’t say I blame him. What I have done, and brought my daughter to do, is indeed a curious thing—born of our own curiosity, I suppose. If this hammerhead wants to circle us, so be it.
This article appears in the Spring & Summer 2022 issue of Southbound.