Tuesday, May 27, 2008

George Is Alive & Well, Except For His Cataract!

***WARNING - If you're squeamish, you might not want to read about today's adventure!***
This is George, the legendary resident of Wing Beach. George is a 6' green moray eel that has been inhabiting the little holes along the underwater cliffline near the crevasse for the past 12 years at least. At least I think it's still the same old George. If it's not, he's not owning up to it, and I'm not about to call him a liar, especially after this past weekend. Now if I had the training and eye that Dr. Mark Robertson has, I would have probably noticed George's cataract right away and made a mental note that his sight probably wasn't very good on his right side as that eye was all clouded over. But sadly I am not Dr. Mark Robertson, and I didn't happen to be diving with him yesterday.There were a bunch of Japanese divers in the crevasse who had taken the boat out to Wing Beach. Here you see their dive guide putting on a show and blowing air rings for them. I figured it looked pretty cool and decided to take a few pictures of it as well. But as is usually the case, all the Japanese divers missed the little octopus hiding in a hole on the bottom, and they also all missed George, which is really too bad because George is usually a very gracious photo subject and poses quite nicely. You will notice I said "usually". Once I found George on the cliff line tucked into the same hole that the bubble coral Plerogyra sinuosa is in, I just camped there and started snapping away. Just for the record at this point, I'd like to point out that I have never fed George Vienna Sausages, and have never thought it was a very good idea.When eels open their mouths like this, I have never taken it as a threating gesture, I just figured they were proud of their shiny white teeth and liked to show them off. Plus it also provides an opportunity for the cleaner shrimp and wrasses to give them a dental check up. So I've always tried to time my shots to catch them like this, I just thought it looked cool. George and I spent about 5 minutes together, me taking pictures, him posing being a show off. Then George swam away and went down under a rock in the bottom of the crevasse. I thought he was playing follow the leader, so I obediently followed him over and took a few more pictures. At that point, George was coming up and rubbing against the camera and my hand, so I figured he was trying to show me that he wanted to be friends. Now again, in the picture above you can clearly see his cataract, and I'm sure my buddy Mark could have pointed that out to me, but again, he wasn't there, I had Barry instead. My medical training is limited to knowing to yell when I see blood, which did wind up coming in handy in a couple minutes.Right after I took this picture, in which you can clearly see his cataract, George was coming up rubbing against the camera and my hand, so I figured he was trying to tell me something. I put the camera down and just held my left hand out to show him I wasn't going to do anything to him. He came up and sniffed it a couple times, and rubbed it a little bit, then he started to turn his head away, which meant he was looking at me with his bad eye. Now a smarter person, like Mark Robertson for example, probably would have realized that meant he couldn't really see what was going on at this point. But I chalk it up to the fact that I'm not a trained opthalmologist that it never occured to me that might be a problem. All the sudden old George lunged and bit two of my fingers, and when I say bit, I really mean ripped the crap out of them and crunched down to the bone. Fortunately for me, I think it was just a friendly warning because he immediately let go and went back down to his hole. Moray eels tend to hang on for the fight when they bite, so I was counting my blessings. He did it so fast there was no way I could have reacted. However once he bit me I did react and let out quite a yell. Now you can speculate as to what I said if you'd like, and Barry can't prove anything because I yelled it through the regulator. But I think it gave poor old George a fright as well so he backed off and let go.I looked at the wounds, and while they were definitely bleeding (oozing green stuff, which is the color of your blood at 90 feet underwater), I wasn't terribly concerned at this point and didn't figure there was any point ruining a perfectly good dive, after all, we still had plenty of air. So I balled my fingers into a tight fist and swam along the underwater cliff continuing to look in more holes. It was after about 5 minutes that I felt a tug at my fin, it was Barry trying to get my attention. As I started to turn back to look and see what he wanted, I all the sudden saw a 6' white tip reef shark swimming along by my side. He was a couple feet away from me, and I had an awesome view of him. The first thing to pop into my head was that this would make an awesome picture or video, so I started trying to get my camera in the right mode. As I undid my fist, a big cloud of green blood filled the water where I was. Now it still didn't dawn on me that the blood might be the reason the shark was visiting so closely, or that releasing a big cloud of it could be a problem. I was intent on getting some awesome pictures, right up until I noticed my camera housing had fogged and I couldn't take any pictures. I was so bummed. Here I was within a couple feet of this magnificent shark and I couldn't take any shots of it.

I don't really know what was going through Barry's mind at that time, but I'm fairly certain that he wasn't as concerned about getting a picture as he was of keeping that shark at a safe distance. Once I knew that I couldn't film him, I just watched him in awe as he swam up ahead a little bit, then came back toward me and headed back down the underwater cliff line. All of the sudden it dawned on me that it might not be coincidence that I had such an up close and personal encounter with this shark, maybe he was tracking my blood and wanting to get a closer look at a potential dinner. Then it dawned on me that this was the only place I'd ever seen a Tiger Shark, and that if I attracted one of them, they might be more inclined to investigate the source of the blood more thoroughly. So then I decided I should probably quit horsing around and get in where I didn't have to worry about a shark sneaking up on me. Everytime I would open my hand it would be another huge green cloud of blood, which Barry had to swim through as he was behind me. We had a few minutes of deco time to burn off, but got out of the water safe & sound. Once we got out of the water, Barry said he thought I was the ultimate dive guide, sacrificing my fingers to a moray eel, so there would be blood in the water so he could finally see a shark in the water. I like the sounds of that story, it sounds much better than me just being an idiot and getting bitten. And it just adds more mystique to the whole Axe Murderer Tours legacy. So the official version of the story is that the Axe Murderer will do anything to guarantee a great dive.This is the bottom of the finger, you can see where the rows of teeth sunk in, and yes, it hurts as bad as it looks.

13 comments:

Tamara said...

I heard the story on your show this morning and cringed, but now that I see the pictures...YIKES! OUCH!!!!!

Mark R said...

Interesting the different dive "groups" apparently on this island. For the past 6 years, all the folks I have dived with have called this giant moray "Old Charlie," but "George" is just as good. In the past, there have been stories here and there about him lunging at people (and I was on one dive a few years ago where he did just that at Dianne Nottke -- totally unprovoked). This past Sunday, however, he came out, exposing his entire body in the water column and came after Jeff! It was not an energetic lunge, but Jeff did have to bat him off with his fins. The encounter lasted a sustained time (unlike the earlier lunge I witnessed) and I was quite concerned watching this. Indeed, if he is increasing his interraction with people, that is unfortunately a concern for us all. One note to anyone else who may be tempted to "play" with such a critter: A lady recently had her hand bitten by a moray near Guam (I'm not sure it was a giant moray, but it was apparently one of the larger species). Even with years of physical therapy she is never expected to gain full use of her hand again. Harry, as painful as your injury is, you really came out VERY lucky. As for your implications about my wisdom, I will rather embarrassingly take them as a compliment. I have no doubt that there are few, if any, islanders who would agree with your assessment. I am also a total chicken when it comes to these critters, and advise people to realize that in being normal predator-fish, they are prone to behavior that seems erratic and unpredictable to us humans.

Mark R said...

Oh yes, one more thing: GREAT photos, Harry! Quite impressive.

Brad said...

Harry, it really is a shame you didn't get those pictures of the shark. I tell you what, if you want to ooze blood all around the next time, I'll be sure to follow you (from a very safe distance) and video any shark close encounters for you.

Jeff said...

George is getting crotchedy. The SOB was after me the other day.

Beverly Mae said...

Nasty bites Harry=( Glad you are okay. But you know, I think George has a cataract in his eye from all your flashes while picture taking! ehheheh =P

Mike said...

While I always appreciate Dr. Mark's sage advice, I gotta say that the comment of the day goes to Brad D.

jake rhymes with cake said...

harry, here's an interesting factoid that most people don't realize -- an ichthyologist professor of mine from Cornell University shared with our class that human blood will not cause sharks to enter a feeding frenzy. Human blood does not have the right chemical/genetic makeup that causes sharks to enter a frenzy. If anything, that shark that came in to investigate all high electromagnetic signaling you were broadcasting with your rapid heart-rate after being mauld. LOL!

poor george! ooh, and poor Harry, too. haha.

sonja said...

Nice underwater pictures. George look scary, though. How deep does he live?

Bob Abela said...

Harry, Harry, Harry... *sigh* ...an entertaining story but, boy, it really could have been much more serious. Wishing you well and that your wounds heal quickly.

bigsoxfan said...

Harry, You are the master of the understatement. "Investigate more throughly", indeed. My buddy, the doctor, and your past diving friend and neighbor had a good chuckle over that one. I'm dying to convince Pete to experiment with the poster who postulated the opinion that sharks aren't attracted to human blood as much as that from fishes. Wonder if Brad wants to film that one. As for me, I'm going to wear whitey tighties under my swimsuit from now on. We may not feed them personally, but one vienna sausage does look like any other.

Harry Blalock said...

Mark, thanks for the laugh. I always wear my jockey shorts under my swimsuit, and now that you've pointed out the fact that one vienna sausage looks like the next one, I think it's an even better idea. Thanks!

Barry said...

Hi Harry,Your the ultimate tour guide /bait (what ever)the things you will for a most memorable splash. thanks
Here's the URL for the Whale Project.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/94831544@N00/sets/72157594304204297/