I’ve always been obsessed with sharks. I think the obsession began around the same time I decided dinosaurs were the coolest thing, and when that dinosaur obsession devolved into a mere interest, and then into a closet interest after the realization that I didn’t possess the requisite science or math abilities to be a paleontologist, my love of sharks stayed strong.

To this day I never miss Shark Week. I never pass up the opportunity to look at pictures of sharks on the internet or in magazines. I read about shark attacks like others read about sports. I always see the newest shitty shark movie on TV and always hate it a little less than anyone else.


California: Foolish mistakes almost prove costly… Death in the water… Stuck floating above a 24 ft monster….

When I moved to California in 2007 I was more than a little excited to be heading to a place where I might feasibly see a shark. Hell, I didn’t care about seeing them as much as I just wanted to know they were there. Around Scotland there aren’t any sharks.

In California I met a Canadian guy who was as crazy about sharks as me, and when some poor bastard was half eaten by a twenty-four foot long Great White Shark we both knew what we had to do.

That morning we each worked harder than we ever had in our lives to do an entire day’s work in three hours, then borrowed a couple of undersized, black widow-filled wetsuits and a couple of mountain bikes, and cycled to the ocean.

Caution Sign

That was the first time I’d ever swam in the Pacific Ocean, and I had no idea how cold it could be. It didn’t make sense to me. In Scotland, the weather’s cold and the water’s cold. In California, the weather’s warm and the water’s… Well, I immediately regretted stepping into that freezing black oblivion. My toes felt like they were stabbed with knives, and then went numb to the point I wondered if they were still there.

Also, you’ve probably heard of that old and wise rule: Never Eat Before Swimming! I hadn’t heard of that and if Matt had, he certainly didn’t say anything. We ate the biggest damn lunch we could eat and then stumbled into the ocean; perfect floating chunks of shark-bait.

We swam out as far as it took for the people on the shore to become small ants before we both experienced the most awful cramps and some weird paralysis that saw us simultaneously incapacitated, floating pathetically atop the waves together.

“Matt! I can’t move!” I shouted, half laughing, half panicking. I really was stuck. The waves were pushing me from side to side and it was all I could do to keep my head above the water.

“Me too,” he shouted back. “This sucks!”

But things were about to suck more…

“What the fuck is going on?” Matt screamed at me, less laughing this time than plain panicking. He was staring back at the shore, and if he could have moved his arms he probably would have been pointing that way.

I looked and on the shore, with all the tiny little ant people I could see a fire engine, a police car and a ambulance. There were dozens of people gathered around the waterline, and the distinct and unmistakable shape of a human body being carried onto the shore.

“Fuckfuckfuckfuck!” Matt kept saying. I was thinking something similar.

We began to paddle furiously against the waves, which predictably appeared to have turned to pull us out to sea. We must have looked ridiculous, flapping our arms, crooked at the elbow and making no damned headway at all.

“I can’t fucking move, Matt!”

“Neither can I!”

Suddenly we realized that there was no one else in the water. The entire beach was clustered with surfers waving and shouting at us. Of course, we couldn’t hear a damn thing, but it looked from that distance like they were shouting, “Shark!”

After a few minutes some surfers swam out and carried Matt and I back to the shore, where we were informed that the surfer whose body had been carried into the ambulance had been taken underwater by a nasty current, and his head had been smashed against a rock.

The blood and panic had resulted in a mass evacuation of the water, and indeed the people had been shouting, “Shark!” although there is nothing to suggest – apart from daily sightings over the previous week – that there had been a shark beneath us.

Nonetheless, I didn’t venture back into the water for the rest of my stay in the United States.

The Philippines: Bus crashes, paralysis and too much rum in paradise… Yellow eyes beneath a blue night sky…

In the summer of 2008 I was a little wiser, but not much. I still loved the sea, and no bout of fear was going to stop me from going back in the water. So I headed to the Philippines, to an area of Cebu with one of the densest Thresher Shark populations in the world.

It was an eventful journey. On the bus ride from the airport to the remote village I’d planned to visit my bus crashed going around a cliffside road hundreds of feet above the surf. After that I found myself speeding along on the back of a motorbike, desperately clutching my luggage, staring at the gravel path and hoping my face didn’t end up smeared along it.

When I arrived at my destination I assumed that after months in Korea’s sweaty heat I wouldn’t need suncream for a while. I wasn’t totally foolish – I just thought that a half hour walk wouldn’t do me any harm.

Needless to say, when I returned I was seared to the bone. I’ve eaten steaks cooked less than my skin after a half hour on the beach. I was also paralyzed in one leg.

My friend, Karen and I had waded out in the shallow water, wearing our sandals. After a while we realized there were sharp things among the seaweed and we walked carefully. But soon the swells were big enough to make it near impossible to walk and it was still too shallow to swim.

One swell managed to knock me over and my sandal fell off, and just for a second I let my foot touch the sand…

I’ve experienced a lot of pain in my life, and rarely have I ever made noise that reflects that pain. Seriously. I’ve suffered some agonizing pains, and I’ve never let out a scream.

But man did I scream! I screamed so hard it hurt my throat. I screamed so hard it hurt Karen’s ears.

Karen was kind enough to help me onto shore, by which time there was no pain and I felt foolish for having screamed. I tried to keep cool and pretend I’d just been startled, but I couldn’t feel my right leg.

Upon closer inspection I had two giant neon blue needles stuck in my heel and my whole leg was dead.

We hobbled back along the rocky beach to a fishing shack and consulted some fisherman who spoke no English. From what I could tell, they were trying to say that I needed to sit on my ass and drink rum for a week – no more swimming.


But that first night, after almost three days without sleep and having consumed more than a whole bottle of one dollar rum, I took to the beach with another friend, Dave. I was able to hop about on one leg, and then float in the sea – careful to check for paralyzing seacritters.

We drank rum and waded and floated around under the most amazing lightning storm I’ve ever witnessed – the whole sky turning blue, but with a sound. The air was so close and thick that I could hear nothing except when my friend spoke, and even then words stopped and dropped in the air.

It was dark, too. There were no lights other than the moon, the stars and the intermittent lightning bolts that illuminated the universe above and below us. We couldn’t see a thing, but we knew there were sharks everywhere. The diving instructors at the nearby boats had told us to be very careful.

I was swigging from the bottle, nipple-deep in the sea when Dave pointed at something very calmly. “What’s that?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I said, knowing probably wasn’t nothing.

“No, really. What’s that? Something’s moving…” He didn’t seem too concerned, but then again Dave was standing right near the shore and I was nipple-deep and half-paralyzed.

Suddenly Dave began backing out of the water, but he still didn’t seem too fussed. He was laughing, curious. “I’m going to get my torch,” he said. “There’s something big in there.”

I looked and couldn’t see much. There was certainly something moving – something big – but it could well have been a school of tightly packed little fish. Probably harmless. I said that to Dave as he disappeared back into the village.

As soon as he was gone I began feel as though I might crap myself. It was the same sensation I felt in the ocean in California – absolute terror beyond rational thought, as though my bowels might inexplicably cease to function. I couldn’t move, and it wasn’t just because my leg was dead.

But Dave soon returned, still laughing. He had a torch in his hand and walked calmly back into the water, waving it around. “Where’d it go?” he asked. I said I didn’t know, and he continued flashing the light around as I hastily paddled back to shore.

As we looked out on the water in which we’d just been swimming, Dave’s torch finally found what it was that we’d seen, and it wasn’t a giant school of fish. It was one giant being. Something big. Something with two eyes that caught the light of the torch and sent it back towards us. Skin that wrapped around one living thing, not a million. Something that had been swimming about our legs as we laughed and watched it, thinking it nothing but a harmless school of fish.


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DAVID WILLS is the managing editor of Beatdom Magazine, and the author of The Dog Farm and Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult'. You can learn more about him on his website.

96 responses to “A Tale of Two Sharks”

  1. Holy moly David! How long was your leg paralyzed? I couldn’t have handled that. I get a cough and think I have lung cancer.
    Where are you going for your next shark adventure? Where were you in California? The water is cold there! I don’t mind seeing sharks, it’s sort of interesting (I’ve seen them from boats and seen them dead washed up on shore), but I LOVE seeing whales!
    Great post!

  2. Wow! Fast reader… I barely posted this!

    My leg was paralyzed until I’d drunk the necessary amount of rum – several bottles. It’s the cheapest medicine on earth at a mere dollar per bottle. I think that after a few days the paralysis went away, but it’s hard to tell. I kept sitting on my ass and floating in the sea. I barely moved all holiday.

    I was living and working in San Luis Obispo, California – about half way between LA and SF. It’s a beautiful place.

    I always wanted to see a whale, but alas, not yet. Maybe one day.

    As for my next shark adventure… I’ve tried many countries, but the next on my list is Thailand, or maybe Bali. I’m going to one or the other in February.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      From your description I’d say that was a sea urchin — there are many kinds. In Hawai”i, and I’m sure elsewhere, the cure is urine. Really. You piss (or someone else does; it doesn’t matter whose piss it is) on the spot where the urchin got you (having pulled out the spine first) and it all gets much better.

      When I was in the Lau Lagoon (Malaita, Solomon Islands) I did worry about being in the water, but not from sharks. There, they had poisonous cone shells, and also extremely poisonous (cobra-level neurotoxin) sea snakes. The sea snakes were pretty cool. The last few inches of their bodies have evolved into a flat fin. But in the water they frightened me, the few times I saw one. One came ashore where we were sleeping and I confess I killed the bastard with a machete.

      • Yes, it sounds like an urchin. They really looked amazingly weird! Like stars or something… I didn’t know I had to piss on it. That might have helped a lot by the sounds of things. I only thought you were meant to do that with jelly fish stings…

        I saw a sea snake once when I was in Spain. It was not poisonous, but I didn’t find that out until months later, and I was scared stupid at the time. I’m laughing at the thought of you killing the snake with a machete, but I might have done the same thing. On land, though, they don’t bother me in the least… but in water they’re scary.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          A friend of mine stepped on a sea urchin in Mexico and hobbled for weeks afterward. Apparently, part of it broke off deep inside his foot, as he learned when he eventually saw a doctor, and he had to have it surgically removed. I forget why it took him so long to seek help, though it may have had something to do with location, the Mexican beach being very remote.

        • Damn, that sucks. I think that what the men were telling me – and what happened – was that the spikes would simply dissolve inside my body.

          My dad once jumped off a cliff and landed on a sea urchin. The captain of the boat – who’d told him it was safe to jump – then told him the poison would go through his blood and kill him.

          It didn’t.

          And for some reason I’ve always had a fascination with remote Mexican beaches…

        • D.R. Haney says:

          My friend had found a beaut; he showed me pictures of it. He used to go there to write, though probably not much writing resulted. He’s one of those guys that women positively drool over, due in part to his “romantic” disposition, which was manifested by, for instance, his going to remote Mexican beaches to write. Every time I had a party that Greg (my friend) attended, I would invariably get follow-up calls from women who, after thanking me for inviting them, would say, “Yeah, um, who was that guy…?” We should all be so lucky.

        • I hate those bastards… I happen to have been friends with one or two of them. Before I killed them in fits of jealousy.

          I wrote a short story when I was young (back when I wrote short stories…) about a man who went to a remote Mexican beach to write. Instead, he met a girl…

          Which is weird because I never write about places I don’t know, and I’ve never been to Mexico before.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          All in good time, grasshopper. You’re destined to be a world-class traveler, which in fact you already are.

          I’ve always tried to surround myself with the gifted and charismatic, hoping, I suppose, to have some of it rub off on me, so I’ve been friends with a number of ladykillers, and it can drive you up the freaking wall. It’s admirable, to some degree, at the beginning, but then it just gets irksome to be treated like Astroturf by all the women running over to you to get to your friend. And your friend’s ego? That’s another difficulty. Such people should finally be left to others like them, which is often the case anyway. I wouldn’t have envied any of Brad Pitt’s friends, back when he had time for them, as he presumably doesn’t now, having founded a new state peopled by his progeny.

        • I’m going to see all of Asia before I head back to the Western hemisphere, at which time I’ll make efforts to visit my Yankee TNB friends and see some Mexican beaches.

          And yes, me ego has taken a beating over the years by constantly being the guy left to watch the drinks while the hot chick takes my friend to the dance floor for some making out… The annoying things is that my babe-magnet friends have always been such nice guys that they don’t get big-headed about these things. They just stay cool…

  3. Ah, I grew up just south of S.L.O., in Santa Barbara. The water’s a little, but not much, warmer in SB. And the whales migrate every year. It’s beautiful, loads of them swimming past on their way to . . . Mexico, maybe?

    • I heard about the whales. An old hippy couple I lived with for a while used to go to SB to see the whales every now and then. It sounded wonderful. I can barely imagine how beautiful it must be.

      I drove through SB once, and met a nice French girl from there, but I never had the pleasure of visiting.

      • Matt says:

        California Gray Whales migrate south from Alaska to the Gulf of California to give birth, usually from November through February. Most whale watching tours are pretty reasonable, and have a money-back guarantee if you don’t see anything. I go out every winter. Usually a lot of dolphins, too, and every now and then, an orca.

        • Money back, huh?

          I’d love to see whales. My dad had seen Great Whites and Blue Whales by the time he was eighteen, so I think that compelled me to go out and see as many amazing creatures as I could. And I have, but whales have thus far elluded me.

  4. Simone says:

    I’m dead scared of the sea. I don’t go in more than waist deep. I’ve watched too many shark movies that have scared the crap out of me.

    Hat’s off to you staying in the water with “a giant school of fish”. *shivers*

    Did you ever find out what the two giant neon blue needles belonged to?

    Great post!

    • I saw what they came from, but I don’t know what exactly they were, other than perhaps extras from a sci-fi movie. Truly otherworldly creatures…

      I really love being scared and so that probably compelled me to stay in the water. When stuff like that happens I think: “If I live, this will make a great blog post…”

    • Ducky says:

      Spielberg sucks just for making Jaws. Though it really is a great movie, I hate that it created so much fear in people.

      • I agree. But then it comes down to people… There are far scarier movies about human beings, but we still trust each other. For some reason when it comes to sharks we all think back to Jaws and assume all sharks are killer monsters.

        • Ducky says:

          People trust each other?

        • Everyone trusts someone. I mean, people will put their faith in a good-looking stranger, someone of the same race or someone who says they’re of the same religion. Hell, when it comes down to it we trust our fellow humans more than we should. Sometimes. Then again, a lot of people carry mace and can’t look at strangers. Maybe it’s just me.

        • Ducky says:

          I’m of the carry mace variety. Maybe I’ve lived in bad neighborhoods for too long. Big city living has a price.

          But I get your point. As a species, we are more readily inclined to trust one of “our own.” Personally, I think people are capable of far worse damage than animals, so I tend to keep to myself, but I’ll walk up to any dog, and I’ve been known to try and pet the animals at the zoo.

        • Haha, I’ve never petted an animal at the zoo and I usually stay away from stray dogs, but most animals I’m fine with. Humans I stay away from, but I’m never really scared of them. Only in San Fransisco did I ever feel afraid of the people around me, but that was because they were all threatening to kill me and threatening to rape all the women in the vicinity…

          Sharks and other animals have certain rules – keep a safe distance, show some respect, and you’re fine. With people you never know. I’m more trusting than I should be but I always keep an awareness that if someone gets violent I walk the fuck away or stop them from hurting someone.

        • Ducky says:

          Yes. You hit. With animals there are rules. Don’t show your back with certain ones. Don’t look at others. If you know the rules, you can navigate your survival. Humans are unpredictable, violent. I tend to be afraid of just about everyone, but then, I’ve met some scary people. Not that I don’t know how to play the game. I can puff out my chest as well as any rooster. But the fear is always there. I don’t feel like that with animals.

          I must not be very evolved.

        • Well, you are only two inches tall, bright yellow and made of easily punctured plastic…

  5. Ducky says:

    Awesome. I “love” sharks, too, and I have a shark encounter for ya!

    When I was about 8 or 9, I was swimming off the coast of Mexico at Tampico beach. I had swum pretty far out and when I looked back, no one was in the water. I looked to the shore and everyone was waving at me. I saw my Dad, my sister, my brother, the villagers – all waving. So, I waved back.

    Just in that moment, I heard a faint, “Tiburon!” Then, I felt it.

    A cold chill came first, like an underwater vapor or maybe the shark exhaled onto my thigh. Then his skin rubbed against me, abrasive as sand paper. I stood there, chest deep in the water, and watched him. I knew better than to move. He was a Tiger shark, about 5 or 6 feet, a baby really, or a teenager at the most, and he just swam away. No malice. No agenda. Just a shark out for a swim.

    It all happened so fast but it felt like forever. I can still conjure the color of his skin, the way he wagged his tail like an underwater doggie, the deep scratch that ran down his back.

    I’ve got a hammerhead story, too, but I’ll save that one for later.

    What’s up with that paralysis thing in Ca? Did you ever figure out what that was? Freaky!

    • Damn, that’s scary. I know it didn’t get you but I can almost feel it. What I left out of my first story (because I was rambling on too much) was that I could imagine the shark under the water. I could feel its breath (do sharks exhale?) and feel its skin… But I’m fairly sure it was all in my overactive mind.

      But when you describe that Tiger Shark… Damn, I’ve got goosebumps and I’m just heading for a shower…

      Please tell me the hammerhead story! I want to know!

      (As for the paralysis all I ever knew was what those rummy fishermen told me, and it worked. Just another pest of the sea. Not fatal, but painful and inconvenient.)

  6. Ducky says:

    I don’t think sharks exhale, but that is what it felt like. I think the cold “breath” (for lack of a better word) comes from the currents that follow their movements, but it sure does feel like they’re breathing on you. I had quite an abrasion from his skin. It drew prickles of blood (like a really bad carpet burn.)

    I wish I had pet him.

    What about that first paralysis? Was it just from eating too much?

    Hammerhead story – that one’s a post, so you’ll have to stay tuned.

    • Yeah, I used to hate the cold currents when I was swimming because it felt like something evil was moving beneath me. Like the ghost of a shark or something…

      I wouldn’t like to get a carpet burn from a shark, but then again it would be something to tell people about… Something definitely worth remembering.

      The first paralysis was just from eating so much and jumping immediately into cold water. Our bodies just cramped up and wouldn’t work. It looked funny, but probably wouldn’t have made a found memory if one of us had lost a chunk of flesh.

      And I do look forward to the hammerhead post.

  7. Ducky says:

    I’ve heard about not swimming right after you eat, but I thought it was just an old wives tale. I’ll be careful from now on. That would freak my shit out!

    There’s a place in Mexico called Xel-Ha where you can snorkel with all kinds of cool underwater beasts, from sharks to barracudas (they are so NOT intimidating – really don’t understand the big deal with them.) What I love about the place though, is that there is a huge canyon where warm water shoots up – I think from thermal springs. Very cool sensation.

    • Wow. That would be cool. Where I was in the Philippines was all the more scary because the water was really warm, but cold jets shot up from this massive drop-off, and that’s where there were apparently thousands of sharks, sea turtles and a few whale sharks.

      Strangely I was most impressed by the seahorses… It sounds weird but they just don’t look like real animals! They’re like out of a fairytale or something…

      As for swimming after you eat, it’s everywhere now I know it, but I’d honestly never heard of that rule before jumping in. It seems to be a really bad idea.

      • Ducky says:

        Oh, yes! Sea horses. I love them, too!!! Such benevolent faces. It’s like looking into the face of love.

        • Yet they’re so awkward… Like a sad geek about to fall over. With a trumpet stuck on his face… They look like something from a Disney movie that just shouldn’t have become real. But I’m so glad they are.

  8. I remember when the professor from Nipomo was half eaten. She had been swimming early in the morning with harbor seals, not very far from shore. I happened to be visiting that week in Avila and had an eerie feeling when walking on the beach.

    That giant being looking at you must have been freaky!

    • I love Avila beach (which is where I shot the photo of the sign, but wasn’t exactly where the story took place…) and it’s where I felt something was swimming beneath me. I really felt it was a sharky kind of place. There were seals swimming under me and all around, and some of them were real vicious bastards. But they were beautiful. I kept thinking they were sharks, though, and it terrified me.

      It was a supernatural sort of experience seeing two yellow eyes shining back like that. Truly amazing. And to know that it had been circling me without ever coming too close… Wow. I feel very luck.

      It reminded me of Japanese animations where millions of little creatures morph into one big one.

    • Matt says:

      That woman was a staggering dumbass. “Oh, let’s go for an early morning swim, right at Great White feeding time, out among the Great White’s primary food source! That’s the best thing I could do today!”

      It’s like that Timothy Treadwell fellow: difficult to feel bad he got himself eaten by the bears when he put so much effort into causing that to happen.

      • Maybe she died doing what she loved. There are countless thrill seekers in the world and I supposed going for a swim isn’t one of the most thrill-seeking of events. On top of that, Avila wasn’t known for great white attacks until then. Great whites along the Central Coast of CA usually are seen further off shore hunting seals in open sea. With that said, I wouldn’t swim where there are harbor seals. I’m too paranoid. I wouldn’t put her in the same category as someone filming grizzlies at close range.

        • I’m weird and I aruged with many friend about this, but I always thought that I’d be happy dying doing something amazing. I know people would laugh and scorn me after the fact, but if I were to pet a grizzly bear on the nose and it ate me, I’d be pretty content to die. I mean, you know the risk so you have to be secure in the extreme possibility of death, and why not die at the teeth of a majestic creature, rather than some scumbag drunk driver?

          As for the swimming with seals. She probably knew the risks, too. It’s a dumb thing, but if she knew she knew…

  9. Matt says:

    More and more, David, I think we’re cut from the same cloth. I LOVE sharks (and dinosaurs)! I live for Shark Week; one of the best birthday presents I’ve recieved in the last couple of years was the Best of Shark Week DVD set.

    I’ve had so many wild shark encounters, it’s a wonder I haven’t yet been bitten. Snorkling with a hammerhead and watching a tiger shark eat a cow off the coast of Maui, swimming with whale sharks and manta in the Sea of Cortez…there are coves here in San Diego where you can go skin diving with leopard sharks all the time.

    While snorklin Hawai’i one time I found a shed tiger shark tooth among the shells and such littering the bottom of a coral reef. Still have it in my desk drawer.

    • Now that sounds awesome!

      • Matt says:

        Oh, it was. One single snorkling trip around a reef yielded encounters with a baby hammerhead, a sea turtle, one downright fugly moray eel, several puffer fish and any number of brightly colored tropical fish. Great trip.

        • Jesus, Matt, you’re making me jealous. It sounds like you’ve seen a whole lot of stuff… Now that I think about it I saw a shark after diving in Vietnam. We asked the boat captain “Are there any sharks?” and he laughed and said no, and then when we got back on the boat and looked down at the bay – which was full of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen – there was a giant shark swimming about. I have a fuzzy photo akin to the “loch ness monster” or “ufo” photos you see in idiot newspapers.

          And I saw a moray eel one time… One time was enough for me. They’re scary. A diver off the coast of St. Andrews had his whole face ripped off by one.

        • Matt says:

          In all fairness, I won the geographic lottery in terms of where I grew up. I’ve got the desert to the east, mountains to the northeast, Mexico about a 15-minute drive to the south, and a flourishing marine environment directly in front of me. As a kid, I didn’t really care that much for people, but I would seek out all sorts of animal adventures–I’m actually at work on a post about one such right now. One of my favorite memories is floating in a shark cage of the coast of San Francisco when I was 12, watching a 17-foot great white rip into a side of beef. Good times.

          It’s an honest wonder nothing ever ate me.

          And for the record, a lot of this happened before I was an adult, and this sort of thing really slowed down once I went to university and became a responsible adult.

        • You surely did. I was always envious growing up in Scotland, where we long since killed off our interesting wildlife… Think of poor Irwin! He never even saw a hedgehog until he was in university!

          I’d love to see a Great White Shark from one of those cages. I can’t imagine how cool that would be…

          I remember once seeing a documentary about sharks ripping into a whale carcass and a South African guy was walking on top of it as a hundred sharks rip chucks off… Amazing.

          And I’m not surprised they didn’t eat you… Even sharks know not to fuck with trained martial artists.

        • Matt says:

          Ummm….not to roil the diplomatic waters here, but I’m pretty sure Irwin once told me Scots count as the dominant form of wildlife in Scotland. I think he summed up Scotland as “violence, alcoholism, and stab wounds.” Cheeky little blighter.

          That documentary you’re thinking of is from the first Air Jaws special, which debuted on Shark Week in 2001, I think. I have it on DVD. My girlfriend at the time was horrified by it; I of course, was fascinated.

          I’ve never seen a hedgehog. But I have hand-fed a Galapagos tortoise and held a juvenile orangutan. Fair trade, I suppose.

        • Yes, Scots are an unusual breed… Not sure what could be said about the English that wouldn’t involve the exact words Irwin used to describe Scotland, though…

          And you’re probably right about the documentary, but whilst I love them all, they blend together in my memory. It’s hard to tell one shark show from another after so many years.

          As for the hedgehog… watch this and tell me you wouldn’t trade those experiences back… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8VQjL3ys98

          And as a bit of random Korea trivia (what else am I good for?) hedgehogs are the new exotic pet around here, with prices starting at around $150

        • Matt says:

          Okay. Now you’re just trying to kill me with Teh Cute. Nice try, Wills, but I’m onto you now.

          You’re going to have to write a pseudo-sequel to Nick’s book. Random Korean Obsessions is a catchy title, isn’t it? And hell, you’re halfway there!

        • I’ve written two books about Korea and am currently writing a third. Instead of rewriting the firth two, I’m blazing ahead into a post-Korean War II effort. Why not? Words on paper can be edited by one of you guys when I die in a shark/kimchi accident and make my name famous… Oh yeah, and all three books are called The Dog Farm.

          What’s ‘Teh Cute’?

        • Matt says:

          “Teh” is an internet meme, being the most frequently misspelled version of “the”, and when used with another word is meant to mean sort of the epitome of something. Most frequent use: “That video is Teh Suck!” meaning it’s the suckiest thing ever. Ya dig?

        • Ok, I understand. I spend many, many hours a day on the internet, but I’m really slow at picking up on things like that. Thanks for informing me.

  10. Richard Cox says:

    Nice post.

    I grew up by the water and I never did buy that adage about waiting a half hour after you eat. We figured it was just another way the man was trying to keep us down.

    When you swim in the ocean enough you realize the creatures are trying to stay out of your way, and other than stepping on the occasional crab there’s not much to worry about except in very rare cases.

    Although I’m surprised I never sustained a jellyfish burn. Anyone here ever had one? Does meat tenderizer really work?

    • Well now you know not to eat and then swim. If nothing else, you smell more of food so the sharks’ll get ya.

      Talking about crabs – haha – I’ve always loved them (again, haha, not the lice). When I was in Vietnam I tried to impress my girlfriend by catching crabs – haha, this sounds terrible – and one of them bit me. The thing is, I made it bite me because I’ve been bitten so many hundreds of times. This one, however, sliced through my fingernail and destroyed the bone. I was laughing and crying so hard…

      My brother got a jellyfish sting about 10 yrs ago and still has the scar. I was only stung a few times by non-poisonous ones, but it hurts and there’s nothing to do apart from piss on it. Now I’m in Korea I eat jellyfish every day. It’s my revenge. Tastes nicer than it sounds.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I’m with Richard on not ever having bought into that old “don’t eat an hour before you go swimming” thing. I did buy into as a child, but then it struck more and more that it was advice coming only from old people, and old people, as we all know in America, are completely useless.

        I’ve fortunately never been stung by jellyfish, but my dad was once, and the pain, I remember, was considerable.

        But do jellyfish really taste nice? I find that hard to swallow, though I don’t know why I should, seeing that I love the taste of squid — well, without the ink anyway. I’ve had the misfortune of tasting squid ink, which incidentally did a Goth number on my blue-black lips.

        • Jellyfish is actually nice. It tastes a bit… well… sting-y. You eat it and your mouth is constantly buzzing, like that popping candy children used to eat.

          How did you end up eating squid ink?

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I ordered squid at a place in Portugal, thinking it was going to be along the lines of calamari, but I got the whole beast, ink intact, as I discovered when I dug in with knife and fork. I thought maybe the ink was considered a delicacy and that I’d look like a rube if I neglected to eat it. But I couldn’t avoid eating it anyway, since the whole plate soon turned black, and then I wondered if I’d looked like a rube for failing to remove the ink sac, or whatever it is, prior to eating.

          Ah, the mysteries of international cuisine.

        • Urgh… My dad did something similar in Spain, but with less ink. He ordered squid and wasn’t expecting a whole squid. I couldn’t imagine anything less appealing than a plate of tentacles dripping with ink.

          Korea’s pretty much numbed me to weird foods. If someone puts a live animal or something that just died on my plate I’ll pretty much eat it. That’s what Korean liqour is for – it gets rid of that “it’s barely dead” taste.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Yes, well. Apart from Korean BBQ, which is admittedly pretty great, I was never one for Korean food, the few times I had it. And I think I know the barely-dead taste you mean, or a version of it, from eating wild game. My palate has surely been corrupted by the hormones and preservatives and so on found in most American food.

        • I do like Korean food, but everything tastes the same. They have a handful of ingredients, because not much grows on this peninsula and they don’t like importing stuff. And so you can eat something different every day of the week and still just eat the same fucking thing.

          The BBQ (which is called “galbi”) is my favourite. I used to drink until 5am every day last summer, always coming stopping for galbi on my way home, getting a few bottles of soju, and then going to work at 9am. It’s the Korean way…

          And I love the “barely dead” taste in many respects, but sometimes it’s just not right. Like I law sushi and sashimi, and I can even eat live sea creatures if the mood is right… But sometimes it’s too gross.

  11. Zara Potts says:

    David. David. David.
    Sometimes I have to read your pieces while covering my eyes because I just don’t know what you are going to get up to next.
    You are such an entertaining man. You could write about a trip to the corner store and it would be an adventure. I love your work!
    We don’t have too many sharks down here. We have got a lot of whales and dolphins and seals.Oh and sea elephants- We get a lot of those too. I think they would have a nasty bite.
    As well as jumping off things, NZ’ers like to swim with sea creatures, but it’s pretty safe.
    Not like Australia… Everything there is dangerous.
    Oh and can you explain more about the black widow filled wetsuit? or will it give me nightmares??

    • I have plent of “going to the corner shop” stories…

      As for the black widows… I built a barn in California and lived in it for a few months. It was full of spiders, and many of them were black widows. The wetsuits were crawling with them, so we shook them out and wore them anyway. I’m terrified of spiders but you reach a point beyond ridiculousness when you stop caring.

      And I’ve always been worried about swimming in Australia, but now I know I should just head to NZ and have a safe swim instead.

  12. Sharks and I have a long complicated history (more complicated on my part than theirs, I’m sure) your shark tale reminds me of the night I went to see Jaws for the first time – mechanical shark of course – and I was with the guy of my dreams – first date – we were going to go sailing the next day – and there we were watching the mechanical Jaws eat everyone in sight. Trying to prove I was not one of those wimpy cry baby girls – when he asked if i was too scared to swing off the sail ropes into the Gulf ( we were pretty far out there – nothing and no-one in sight) I was all like who me? Of course I’m not scared. One school of fish and some rope twined around my leg and I was convinced a nurse shark was heading back my way and I swam back to that boat screaming and crying like the true baby I was…..
    Totally enjoyable post, David!

  13. Oh – I’ve heard of the urine solution before, but never knew if it was actually true. But if Don says it…

    Up North when you go swimming you have to wear what’s called a stinger suit. It’s a thin latex suit that covers you from head to toe – if the various breeds of jellyfish touch you while you’re wearing it, they remain inert, because the dumb bastards don’t recognise you as human flesh.

    Of course, if you step on a stonefish, you’re still fucked.

    And, then there’s this:


    I’m very glad you didn’t get eaten, David.

    • Matt says:

      Oh man, that’s a horrifying account.

      I remember reading an account somewhere (maybe it was Bryson’s book) about a man who inadvertantly swam into a school of jellyfish while bodysurfing in Australia. Evidently he was in so much pain he kept screaming even after the paramedics anesthetized him into unconsciousness.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Why didn’t someone just pee on the guy? What a wimp.

      • Oh my god… That’s horrifying. Now I’m actually never going back in the water. I don’t like the idea of screaming even while unconscious.

        I once saw an old woman tear a poisonous jellyfish apart in Vietnam. She tore up all the stingers so no one could go in the water for hours.

        And once I found myself floating among millions of poisonous jellyfish with my dad and brother. We thought were fucked. We had to swim about pushing them done from the tops, and eventually my brother was stung. He still has the scar 10 yrs later (maybe more than 10 yrs actually) and I can’t believe my dad and I went unstung.

        Stonefish scare the crap out of me, too. Nasty little fuckers.

      • Matt says:

        “Earlier today at Bondi Beach a man’s life was saved thanks to a Golden Shower generously provided by several other vacationing tourists. And now, the weather!”

  14. John P says:

    Was the thing you stepped on in the Phillipines one of these:


  15. The needles were longer and the body was thinner, I think. It might have been the same creature, but they did look different.

  16. Ducky says:

    Probably a sea urchin.

  17. Ducky says:

    Oops, just saw Zara’s link. My bad.

  18. New Orleans Lady says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with sharks. I’m fascinated and intrigued by them but I also know their power and it scares the bejesus out of me. It’s the fear that makes me hate them but it’s everything else that makes me love and respect them more than many other creatures.

    I’m like you with Shark Week and I never miss an episode. Also, YouTube has a few great clips of some real shark attacks that will blow your mind. I think I may be slightly obsessed. With that being said, I hate that because of sharks, I stay out of the ocean. I refuse to go more than calf-deep in any body of water where there are living creatures. I can’t even swim in a pool by myself. I mean, I know there are no sharks in my grandmother’s back yard but…you’d never know to look at me if I find myself floating in there alone. I panick! My husband still laughs at me. Something about the thought of shark automatically makes me pick my feet up and I’m sitting on my sofa!

    (Just so you know, I’ve stopped and started this comment so many times that it barely makes sense but I have no time to go back and fix.)

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      PS- Loved this post. You are a great story teller.

      • Thank you! I’m glad to see that you respect sharks, but no one can blame you for fearing them. They’re so amazing because they’ve reached the pinnacle of their food chain. They’re so ancient and so well evolved that even people on land fear them!

        And you know, when I was a kid and I’d think about sharks, I’d do the same damn thing with my feet! I must have been daydreaming that I was on a boat or something, because I’d pick my feet up, too.

  19. Phat B says:

    You people are all nuts. Like my Granpappy used to say, “Soon as you set foot in that there ocean, you at the bottom of the food chain boy.”

    • That’s true. We go from top to bottom between splashing around and floating. So much in the sea can pose us a threat…

      But what gets me more are the waves. I’ve always been terrified of giant waves. A few times in my life they’ve held me under… but I keep thinking what it’d be like to be stuck on a boat with hundred foot waves crashing down.

      And yet I still watch the Deadliest Catch…

  20. jmblaine says:

    There is something terribly
    tantalizing about shark attacks
    but I can not
    psychologicalize the meaning

    Seems like a terrible way to go.

  21. D.R. Haney says:

    Like you and Ducky a few others here, I’m fascinated by sharks, or at least I used to be. I’ve forgotten most of the reading I did about sharks as a kid, but I always hoped to see one in the wild.

    A few years ago, there was footage on the news here in L.A. of a mako shark — which is one of the most aggressive species — coming up out of the water again and again to snatch fish caught by charter-boat fisherman. The fuck-you arrogance with which it did so had to be admired.

    Now, where was that bloody shark the one time I went fishing on a charter? For that matter, where were any fish?

    • I’ve heard makos are pretty brutal, but jumping out of the water? That’s a fuck-you attitude I can respect. Even Jaws stayed in the sea.

      I’ve been fishing twice in my life and I caught two fish. I consider myself a bit of an expert in the matter… Although the first time I went I caught the two in ten minutes, and then after that I spent hours catching nothing. I went squid fishing at night, which is an amazing experience, despite having caught nothing.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I used to fish quite a bit as a kid, but only in lakes and rivers. I’ve only been fishing at sea once, and I didn’t enjoy it as much, but that’s undoubtedly because I hadn’t been acclimated to it. I like the sound of fishing at night, for squid or otherwise.

        • Nightfishing is cool. The great thing about it is that you see the hundreds of illuminated fish and jellyfish and whatnot that look like little ghosts flying under the surface. It’s amazing. It’s not a good feeling for anyone who’s scared of sharks, though, because it’s always reminiscent of shark movie atmosphere.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Fortunately, I was never much frightened by those movies. I think Jaws is ridiculous. The first half is okay, but the sea-adventure bit bored me to tears, with that rollicking John Williams score. I hate rollicking music. It’s like being force-fed “joy.” Also, as may remember, the shark in Jaws did come up out of the water at one point, throwing itself onto the ship, which I found laughable in the extreme. That plastic toy wasn’t worth the money spent on it. Poor Robert Shaw. To watch him being eaten reminds me of Martin Laundau as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood as he’s wrestling with a giant rubber squid, grumbling “Let’s shoot this fucker” beforehand.

        • Yeah, the first half was a lot better. And I recall the shark jumping out of the water. That was stupid. Man, I haven’t see Jaws in forever…

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I haven’t either. And we ain’t missing much, I promise.

  22. Greg Olear says:

    You, sir, make Simon jumping off that building look like a walk at the beach. A shark-free beach.

    I’m the sort of guy who, if there is really shitty weather outside, feels the need to go outside and feel it first hand. Deep snow, gale-force winds, the “hurricane” that was supposed to hit NYC a few years ago. That is the beginning, middle, and end of me as daredevil. I would not be swimming out to sharks, that’s for sure.

    • What can I say? I like a bit of excitement in my life. I like the thought of writing about dangerous things. I like doing something crazy and wondering if it would make a good blog post…

      However, I don’t like cold weather. Snow, wind and hurricanes aren’t really my cup o’ tea. I was in Taipei the day before that last big storm killed everyone. I could feel it coming and I fucking ran. You can fuck with a shark to a certain point, but when the whole of mother nature comes after you… you’re fucked.

  23. This article amused the hell out of me – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/hi-gr8-white–here-ndash-strvng–cn-we-mt-4–lunch-c-u-l8er-1852809.html

    Apparently you can now expect a text message before a shark eats you…

  24. Main Line Real Estate…

    […]David S. Wills | A Tale of Two Sharks | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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