Posted by: Carol | May 19, 2009

Tiger Shark Encounter

2009 South Pacific

cbparker_d3_20090518_tonga-154.jpgYesterday we headed out of the harbor towards the anchorages, and this morning we decided to move around to a favorite spot called Blue Lagoon – a beautiful circlet of intense blue and turquoise water surrounded by breaking surf, coral reefs, limestone islands and sandy beaches where we were looking forward to a nice snorkel. Also we remembered a resort there from our last Tongan visit where we had enjoyed a delicious dinner – so had hopes of a repeat. Before any of this came about however, Mike spotted an enormous lake of blood staining the surf near the shore of the resort with a few locals knee deep in the water up to something. Always curious, we jumped in our dinghy and buzzed over to take a look.

A female beaked whale of some sort and her calf were dead on the shore, apparently having beached themselves a couple of days before. The Tongans were hacking into the carcass with machetes to salvage the bones (for carvings) and also the meat, effectively disposing of the heavy carcasses before they could start rotting on the resort’s beach. The shallow water all along the shore was stained bright red from whale blood and it didn’t take long before we spotted the shadow of a big shark circling in slightly deeper water nearby. Peering down into the water as it cruised underneath our dinghy we could make out the stripes on its back that identified it as a tiger shark – rare and one of the most dangerous of all sharks – basically the great white of the tropics.

cbparker_d3_20090518_tonga-038.jpgWe buzzed back to shore to warn the men who were wading about with chunks of carcass in the shallow bloody water, and then had the brilliant idea of getting my underwater camera and pointing it down into the water from the supposed safety of the dinghy. I loaded up quickly – then back to the mayhem to scout out the tiger. We located our shark easily and were all concentrating on following it in the dinghy and focusing the camera when suddenly Rod let out a holler, revved into high speed and took off on the plane for Raven. While we had all been concentrating on our photo subject, a second tiger shark had attacked us from behind! Rod, feeling a bump, looked back just in time to see a huge shark, mouth open, lunging up out of the water to take a big bite of our outboard.

cbparker_d3_20090518_tonga-054.jpgHowever we never say die, so after our heart rates slowed down a bit, back into the dinghy we all went and back to shore, although we made a big detour on our way this time. I took my camera with the long lens thinking I might get some photos from the beach of the sharks feasting on whale blubber. Another tourist couple and their boat captain, out on a now aborted snorkeling day-trip, were on shore with us watching the whale scene and it dawned on us that their boat was sturdy enough to withstand the sharks and that we could take our cameras and some whale meat tied to rope and do some shark-baiting a la Suwarrow.

Ultimately, although a total of four (!) tiger sharks showed up, all circling around our launch repeatedly checking out the bait, apparently they had already had a complete whale for lunch and weren’t hungry anymore. But with a great deal of luck, on our final pass one of them did go for the bait and I got my shot!

This is the first tiger shark Rod has ever seen in all his travels, and we sincerely hope it is the last – for all of us! Normally we wouldn’t expect them in an area like this – but the trail of blood wafting out to sea drew them in. This event effectively squelched any desire to dip even a toe into the waters of Blue Lagoon, and the resort wasn’t open for dinner either, so we hauled up our anchor and are now relocated in safer waters.

Another blog linked to our story and I picked up further information from their story and comments. For one thing, the beaked whale was identified as a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale. And there’s a close up photo of the head to support it. Here’s the link if you’re interested in more information and shark diving in general!



  1. Good Heavens!
    Now, you have confirmed Mike’s “love” of sharks.
    Hope you are not returning early for family health matters. Prayers if it is so.

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