That Top-of-the-Food-Chain Feeling

A flashback to the recent days spent diving at Kingman Reef.

A majestic hammerhead shark, Sphyrna mokarran, at Kingman Reef. Photograph by Gareth Williams.

by Gareth Williams

For ten years, I’ve been diving on numerous tropical reefs including those at Fiji, Tonga, Cook Islands, American Samoa, Australia and Vietnam, but only at places like Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef can I regularly guarantee having multiple shark encounters on a single dive. In fact, during my first few days diving at these two sites I saw more sharks than I had seen throughout my entire diving career. It’s truly astonishing.

The smaller reef sharks are curious, the grey reefs especially so and can be a little unnerving in large numbers. However, when a larger shark turns up, you are suddenly reminded that the marine environment is not your natural setting and that you are no longer top of the food chain. This large hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) came into view at 15m depth on the forereef at Kingman, appearing powerful, yet swimming with such grace. The girth of these sharks gives them a dominating presence and their silvery skin highlights their muscular physique. They were not aggressive, merely curious. Encounters like these are a reminder that it is sharks that should fear us, not the other way around.