The Shrimp and The Shark
By Robert Sams
“You never know what you’re going to find, but you know it’s going to be good.”
This is how the great explorer Sylvia Earle described the ocean when we interviewed her for Get Your Feet Wet, the interstitial segments that accompany Splash and Bubbles on PBS KIDS. Very simply, exploring the ocean is like an underwater scavenger hunt, and who doesn’t love scavenger hunts?!
While filming for Get Your Feet Wet, my sister Laura and I did a lot of scuba diving and never knew exactly what we would find. We spent a couple of days exploring one coral reef in Hawaii which was particularly full of story opportunities. Octopuses squeezed in and out of tiny crevices on the reef. Hungry parrotfish crunched coral with their parrot-like beaks and pooped out white sand. Sea turtles, eels and other fish lined up at various cleaning stations to get picked clean by the tiny workers of these underwater car washes. At one kind of cleaning station, there is a red and white shrimp that hangs around, waiting to clean the scales and gills and gaping mouths of its customers. I’ve watched one of these shrimp jump inside a fish’s toothy mouth and come out through the gills. In any other circumstance, a shrimp would be eaten. But at a cleaning station, the shrimp has an important job, and its customers know it.
We had heard from a local dive shop that we could find some of these red and white shrimp cleaning moray eels along the reef edge starting at around 85 feet deep. With our local guide, we spent a full day searching, slowly working our way along the reef edge, carefully checking the nooks and crannies. On our first dive, we found nothing. Not a single shrimp. On our second dive, we found three shrimp but no morays. On our third dive, we again followed the sloping reef down to the sand, and this time I momentarily turned around to stare out into the blue.
Like a mirage, a shape began to appear. I knew the shape, but I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I waited for the mirage to disappear, but it only grew stronger, and suddenly we were greeted by a large, female tiger shark, at least 10 feet long. She was obviously curious and swam slowly toward us, almost as if to ask “May I help you find something?” I’ve been in the water with a lot of sharks over the years, but normally they are very timid. Rarely have I had a shark come so close. When she was nearly within arm's reach, she became frightened of our scuba bubbles and sped off out of sight. Not long after, we found what we had come for - a little shrimp cleaning the teeth of a moray eel. And when it had finished, it hopped into the open mouth of our guide Paul and picked his teeth clean as well. It’s like Sylvia says - you never know what you’re going to find, but you know it’s going to be good.
Robert Sams is a cinematographer, writer, producer and songwriter for Get Your Feet Wet, the interstitial segments that accompany the Splash and Bubbles series on PBS KIDS! In 2001, Robert and his sister Laura founded Sisbro Studios, a media production company that uses incredible storytelling to help people discover their world and laugh along the way. Sisbro specializes in children’s entertainment, science/educational programming and comedy. Robert lives in Portland, Oregon with his family.