Face to face with Hammerhead Sharks in Costa Rica – Cocos Island Part 3

Jim’s Costa Rica Adventure, Part 3

Part 3 in Costa Rica. Red Oxx Manufacturing co-owner Jim Markel survived a river run through a rainforest in part 2 of his Costa Rican adventure. Now he and cousin Shawn meet Hammerheads face to face underwater.

Arriving back in San Jose after our rainforest river run, we scouted for a place to eat. We were going to shark infested waters tomorrow; one last, fine meal seemed a good idea.

I’d been tipped that the best steak in San Jose was at a restaurant called La Cascada. A local favorite of the business crowd, the restaurant did not disappoint us with our selections. Fat and happy, we headed out on the town. Casino gambling at the hotels is popular, so we headed to the Hotel Del Rey. After stimulating the local economy and smoking some fake Cubans, Shawn and I called it a day.

After boarding the bus early the next morning, we headed out of the central valley and down to the coast. The winding mountain roads are crowded with heavy trucks hauling freight cross country. After slowly making our way past truck wrecks and breakdowns, we arrived in Puntarenas anxiously thinking ahead to diving…and sharks.

Cocos Island is the largest uninhabited island in the world.

As a world heritage site, the waters are off limits to fishing of any kind. This is shark country. Just two weeks prior, a company was caught trying to smuggle out a sea container load of shark fins.

Our vessel into dangerous waters would be the Okeanos Aggressor. A former research vessel, it’s now fully rigged for live, aboard diving trips. After a quick introduction, we got under way. We were racing against the tide and had a 40 hour crossing to make Cocos Island.

Shawn and I enjoyed the deck at sunset on the Gulf of Nicoya and sipped our drinks. The crossing would give us a chance to get to know the crew and our dive partners. Host Wayne Hasson is owner and founder of the Aggressor fleet. Jerry Beatty from Dive Training Magazine and a contingent from Spain, Mexico, and Ecuador rounded out the divers.

The next morning at our dive brief, it became clear the diving would challenge us. Our first dive was Manuelita. Down to 100 feet, and quick. The currents around the island have been known to carry off divers, so this was serious business. Safety and sticking with your dive buddy are the rules.

"Stay out of the blue if you know what’s good for you."

Cruising over the waves on a Zodiac brought back memories of my time in the service. Except this time, I wasn’t working my butt off, taking orders. And this time, I wouldn’t have to clean a rifle afterwards….

Over the side and we’re in the water, signal "all OK" and I hook up with my dive buddy. Down we go. I’m struck by the amount of living coral and small reef fish. The waters teem with fish – and not just little ones either.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing a large school of sharks gracefully passing overhead and directly in front of our position. If you hold real still and get your breathing under control, it lessens your bubbles (which seem to scare off the sharks). Then they approach quite close.

Working our way along, we came across smaller reef sharks sleeping in caves, sometimes stacked like parked cars. One by one, the smaller denizens of the reef revealed themselves. In what seemed like too short of time, it was time to head for the surface.

After our mandatory safety stop, we broke the surface grinning from ear to ear. Piling back onto the Zodiac, I stared out at the many seabirds nesting on the island. The boobies seem to be the most prolific, with thousands nesting on every conceivable perch. With everyone back aboard, we headed back for fresh tanks.

The crew had hot towels and snacks waiting. Now this is diving!

Cheers, Jim CEO

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