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On this occasion, it was particularly impressive. The coral pinnacle was alive with
brightly coloured reef fish and pelagic fish could be seen swimming lower down.
A small shark caught our attention. It was surrounded by a shoal of tiny fish and
was heading towards the surface. They rose together and got bigger and bigger ... it
was amazing how big they got!
When diving, there is a tendency to judge distance by clarity. Things that look clear
are assumed to be near. In the ultra-clear water of the outer reef, we had hugely
underestimated distance.
The shark wasn't small. It was gigantic and the fish accompanying it were far from
tiny. As they got neared, we recognised the shark as a bronze whaler. The fish were
barracoutas. The shark took no interest in us but the barracoutas began to circle the
pinnacle on which we were perched ... and that was a bit scary.
The barracouta is a Halloween fish: the sort you dream about in nightmares. Its
head is a third the size of its body and vicious teeth protrude from its gaping jaws . Our
barras were about half-a-metre (20-inches) in length and there were hundreds of them.
I'd dived with barras before and wasn't particularly put out by their presence. The
same couldn't be said for some of my companions . One or two looked on the verge of
panicking and, as divemaster, I had to calm things down. I gave the signal to ascend
and, when we reached the surface I signalled to the dive boat for a dinghy to come and
pick us up.
No one signalled back. There was some sort of disturbance . The crew evidently
had a problem and I'd have to cope without them. The sensible thing was to make our
way back to the boat on the surface. I figured that the barras were fascinated by the
coral pinnacle and not by us. We'd soon get clear of them.
But we didn't. The fish came with us. We tried swimming under the water but it
made no difference. They kept coming, beady eyes staring, mouths gaping, always
circling.
By now I was starting to get a tiny bit apprehensive . I'd never heard of barras
attacking divers but there could always be a first time. It they did, the wounds would
be horrific.
I told myself there was nothing I could do about it and my first duty was towards my
charges. The risk from the fish was minimal. The risk from panic was far more serious
and, from the look on some people's faces, that seemed on the cards.
We kept going and the dive boat came in sight. I saw it through a swarm of fish.
They were mainly barras but there were other pelagics amongst them, including the
bronze whaler. For some reason the fish had been drawn towards the boat and were
congregating around it.
Divers were in the water trying to get on board. I guessed we were not the only
ones to be spooked by the fish. There were barras everywhere and some were huge.
I'd never seen any so big before ... at least a metre-and-a-half from tail to snout ... and
they were making aggressive plunges at people.
Suddenly it was all over. A crewmember jumped into the water with a speargun and
shot one of the big barras, which took off like a rocket. Seconds later there was hardly
a fish in sight. The bronze whaler was gone and so were the barras. The only fish that
remained were the tiny reef fish that lived amongst the corals.
When we came to look at the spear, which had been fired at the barracouta, we
found that the end had sheared off. The pronged tip had lodged in the big fish's skull
and its violent movements had snapped the metal at the joint.
In all my many years of diving, this is one of the very few incidents in which I saw a
speargun used effectively in defence. I remain of the view that fish pose very little
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