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Shark feeding at Pulau Payar
"Are the sharks dangerous? Can they bite you?" I asked, voicing
the concern of the rest of the group huddled around the shoreline.
Our guide Jack shook his head, laughing. "No, no. Not dangerous.
They only babies. Very small teeth."
He dug into his bucket and tossed another handful of food into
the clear water a few feet from where we stood. Immediately the
water boiled. We all watched in amazement as a large school of
assorted fish, including a dozen or so small black tip reef sharks,
converged on the feed. The hungry sharks, wrestling and snapping
at each other as they fought for a share, edged closer to the
- "Watch your toes!" Jack warned, grinning. He mimicked an opening
and closing mouth with his hand. We all took a collective step
back out of the ankle deep water and onto the safety of the
clean yellow sand.
- "I thought you said they were safe!" I protested as a shark
a meter long made its way up onto the beach, thrashed around
for a bit, then re-entered the water.
- "Very safe," Jack agreed. "Hardly ever bite
- We hastily took another step back, but we were all smiling.
This exciting attraction was an unexpected and welcome addition
to what was already shaping up to be a memorable trip to Palau
Feeding the baby sharks - an added extra
Pulau is the Malaysian word for island. There are no less than
seventy pulau's surrounding the waters of Langkawi (itself a large
palau) off the Northwest coast of Malaysia. Most of these islands
are small and Payar Island, thirty kilometres south of Langkawi,
is no exception, measuring less than five hundred meters across.
You can book a day tour to Payar from your hotel tour desk on
Langkawi, but it pays to read the brochures because there are
large differences between the services offered by the various
This shark was a little too
anxious to get to know us.
The group I choose offered beach access and a budget lunch (not
to mention baby shark feeding), the price 85 ringgit plus 50 ringgit
for two scuba dives. The trip from Langkawi took a comfortable
forty-five minutes by ferry. During the voyage our guides introduced
themselves, explained to us our options for the day, and gave
us some interesting information about our destination.
Payar Island, they told us, is a strictly enforced marine reserve
with no fishing or collecting of any kind allowed. Because of
this, the island is one of the prime scuba diving sites of the
area and the fish are all very friendly. You should not try to
touch the fish though, they said, as sometimes they don't know
the difference between what is food and what are fingers!
They went on to describe the various options available. Certified
divers were invited on a boat dive to the eastern tip of the Island.
Non-divers could snorkel, sunbake or go for a bush walk. They
also offered a resort style dive package that included basic instruction
followed by a closely supervised dive in a safe area.
Soon after we docked at the pier I was bundled onto the dive
boat that 'must leave now or we miss lunch', and transported out
to the dive site.
"How's the vis been lately?" I asked the dive guide, referring
to the underwater visibility.
"Been lots of rain," he offered, shrugging.
Oh, I thought, slightly disappointed. Rain, especially heavy
rain, tended to wash soil and rubbish off the island and into
the sea, muddying it up. Oh well. I can only hope that it's better
than Botany Bay was last week. Scuba tanks on, we jumped into
the warm water.
From the Pier looking onto
the Main Beach.
|I was not disappointed. While the visibility underwater was not
fantastic, the dramatic scenery and varied fish life more than compensated.
Majestic coral fans swept in the current that fed both black and
white tip reef sharks, as well as huge tuna, gropers and more species
of wrasse than I could ever count. The dive was a memorable and
thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Lunch on the beach was a simple affair, topped off by yellow
watermelon, which I found funny. "What fruit is that?" I asked.
"Water melon," they replied.
"But watermelon is red," I countered.
"What fruit is that?" And so on. They were glad to put me back
on the boat. After lunch and the ritual feeding of the sharks,
I went for a short walk. I found the island to be about what you
would expect from a tropical paradise; golden sandy beaches, clear
fish filled waters and coconut trees swaying gently in the wind.
As the day ended and we all bundled back into the ferry, I found
myself sorry to be leaving so soon. I could easily spend a few
more lazy afternoons lying on that beach.
Main Beach- Watch your toes!