Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shark bait: Continuing the bucket list

So back in June, my friend Mike and I jumped out of an airplane (see previous blog entry from June) to kill some time in our unemployed lives and overcome a few fears and even more make women think we're all that and a bag of chips.
Since that time, we decided to create a bucket list of sorts, things we wanted to do before we kicked the bucket (cue up John Mayer's Say What You Need To Say). And one night during The Discovery Channel's Shark Week, we both came up with our next addition. We were going to go swimming with sharks.

How on Earth do we do that on the budget of an unemployed loser? Certainly we couldn't afford to get scuba certified, or a plane ticket to the Australian reef to come face to face with a Great White.

Our answer came from a rather unlikely, and somewhat non-preferred source - the dreaded Mall of America. UnderwaterWorld, nestled in the basement of the most dreaded mall to all Minnesotans, is home to 5,000 creatures roaming 1.2 million gallons of water. Only one problem. Money.

To swim or scuba with the sharks would set us back quite a bit...nearly as much as skydiving if not more. So we scaled things back and decided to feed the sharks instead.

We both arrived with little adrenaline compared to the feeling we had when we were about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane at 13,000 feet. "Oh, wow, yeah, going to throw some chopped up fish into the water and see a shark eat it," I was thinking to myself.

After a short tour of the facilities, including the lab where they study dead fish and the kitchen where they chop up dead fish for nourishment, we were above the shark tanks, being told the intricacies of properly feeding a nurse shark, a brown tiger shark, and a black-tip reef shark.

I was up first, and after being strapped into a harness (just in case, nobody has fallen into the tank, yet) and another reminder of how to feed them (hold the headless mackerel firmly in the feeding pole until just a few seconds before the shark comes near it, then release. If the shark grabs on to the pole, let go of the pole, etc. etc.), a large tiger shark neared the area where I was moving the fish around about a foot under the water.

I felt a gust of adrenaline as the shark got within a few feet of the fish. "Ok, Steve, don't screw this up, get ready to release, get ready to release, get ready to release." The next thing I know, the shark strikes from over 2 feet away in what seemed like a millisecond, swallowing the fish, and the pole, and trying to pull me into the water. The guide told me "let go, let go, let go" and I let go of the fish with the clamp on the pole. He again said "let go of the pole, let it go." It didn't process in my brain quick enough, and I was wrestling with a 400 pound plus beast who could, quite easily I might add, take off a limb or two from my finely aged human self.

As I let go of the fish, the shark chomped a few more times on the feeding pole and tugged a few good more times before I was able to pull it back out of the water, noticing my feet were covered with water from the shark's struggle.

While the adrenaline rush was nothing compared to skydiving in terms of longevity, it was every bit as intense as I realized, "Holy crap, I just fed and grappled with a shark, yet another thing I fear in the world."

After Mike did his feeding, we went back through the underwater tunnel to see the sharks we just fed from below. As we made our way through, we looked at the various sharks, and taunted them over our superior abilities through a very thick plexiglass tunnel. "Yeah, shark, you think you're bad? You're not so bad. I pwn3d you, shark!"

So now, Mike and I are planning our next adventures. Tattoos? The Running of the Bulls? Drinking the water in Mexico? The sky and the sea are the limit. But the bucket is getting filled.