Blacktip Island residents are celebrating the Year of the Ox with bull shark scuba outings this month. (photo courtesy of Albert Kok)
Blacktip Island scuba operators are celebrating the lunar new year—the Year of the Ox—for the next two weeks with daily scuba outings with bull sharks on the small Caribbean island’s reefs.
“We wanted to do something ox-related, but we don’t have any cows on the island,” Chamber of Commerce president Jay Valve said. “Then we hit on the idea of diving with bull sharks as the next-best thing. They’re something we definitely have. We’re doing two, three shark outings a day, and no one’s been bit, so we’re hoping this brings good luck in the coming year. People are loving it.
“The trick is getting the sharks to the right dive site at the right time. We’ve had to condition them to some extent,” Valve said. “It’s illegal to chum, so we have swimmers thrash around on the surface. Brings the sharks right in. Small children work best. And we haven’t lost too many. So far. Kids, not sharks.”
Organizers said the celebrations draw on lunar new year traditions worldwide.
“It’s not just a shark dive,” Val Schrader said. “It’s a celebration before and after, too. We serve jiaozi dumplings and spring rolls on the boats going to and from the sites, and underwater we have the divers get in a big dragon suit and weave around the reef.
“We can’t do fireworks, but underwater we have everyone wave their dive lights around like crazy,” Schrader said. “The ox theme’s worked well. Last year was the Year of the Rat, and, boy, did that ever go sideways.”
Scuba retailers emphasized other lunar new year customs.
“We encourage everyone to follow the ‘out with the old, in with the new’ tradition,” Bamboo You owner Piers ‘Doc’ Planck said. “At B.Y., we have a complete line of renewable bamboo scuba gear and accessories. It’s the perfect time to upgrade your gear for 2021. And with the celebration going the full 15 days, there’s plenty of time to shop. There’s no reason to invite bad luck by diving with last year’s gear.”
Island officials, meanwhile, were more focused on public safety.
“Folks see a need to swim with sharks, that’s their business, but on land, anyone setting off firecrackers, or lighting bonfires of any kind, will be summarily arrested,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Anything that booms, bangs or flies through the air is illegal, and fires have been banned. The island’s dry as a tinderbox right now and a stray spark could set the whole place off. You want to get shark bit, knock yourself out, but don’t burn the island down with your silliness.”