Friday, March 28, 2008

A Tribute to Big Jim

It has been almost a year since we lost our founding father and source of inspiration. Jim Engel will always be remembered in our hearts and in how we live our lives.

Around the time of Jim's passing, there was a rather outstanding whale shark around Utila. It is hard to explain why this shark was so outstanding but every time I had the honour of seeing him, he made a dramatic impression on me. At the very end of March 2007, we had some incredible swims with him about 7 miles off to the south east of Utila. And it was his dramatic presence in the water that struck me most. Whale Sharks are all awe-inspiring. I have never seen one that was not incredible. But after hundreds of swims with sharks, it takes something special to make a shark really stand out. Excuse my waffling, but it is really hard to pin down exactly why this shark stood out. But, my pictures from the day tell of a beautiful, graceful creature that seemed to fill the water with a dramatic presence. And then he was gone.

In April 2007 we had a slew of encounters with whale sharks - we just seemed to be seeing them everywhere! One of our regulars was shark tagged U622 (ecocean H-047) who I swam with five days in a row. I was the only person in the water when I tagged this young shark, and after successfully placing the tag, he hung about me (often within 5m) for a good few minutes; circling me the going a little further away, coming back and slowing down. almost motionless, as he hung in the water beside me. calmly looking in to my eyes.

And on one particular day, we had swum with U622 a good number of times when we found a much bigger shark cruising the outer edges of a larger boil. The captain cut the engine and we drifted into the boil looking for him again. At the last minute we saw the shark coming towards the bow of the "Tiburon" and the group slid quickly in to the water at the stern. When I got in at the ship's starboard, I saw nothing so I ducked my head under the boat and looked forward. And suddenly he was there. He seemed like a giant as he came directly towards me. I froze. (and was admittedly a little concerned I may be squashed up against the boat). I was stunned by his presence. And almost forgot to take a photo. And didn't even realise that he was too close for the photo to be useful.

We saw this same shark a few times that day, and every time I was in the water with him, I was impressed. He had a huge presence and [self confidence]. And he inspired a sense of awe. But he was certainly hard to take photos of!

Looking back now, I feel a spiritual kinship between this lovely shark and Jim Engel. No wonder that we had named the one after the other. He became known as Big Jim. A fitting name, and a fitting tribute.

Big Jim (formally known as tag U629 and ecocean H-016) has been seen a number of time this year already. It seems the spirit of Jim Engel is still with us and we can continue to take hope and inspiration from his presence in the waters that he loved so dearly.

Please feel free to add your comments or insights, or if you have something that you would like us to write about, then pray tell.

Dale Forbes

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