By Randall Grantham
Growing up on a lake in Lutz that was so clear Dad would take away my mask so I would have to open my eyes under water and not grow up to be a sissy, I have always loved the water. I could swim before I could walk and we were weaned on water skis, or growing bored with that, a piece of plywood, an old canoe paddle or even standing on a barstool perched on a disk of plywood while being pulled around the lake by a ski-boat. We finally gave all that up and, with a fast enough boat, just went barefoot (size 12s don’t hurt).
Underwater was also a playground for us. We would have contests to see who could hold their breath under water the longest. Who could swim the furthest without coming up for air? We would try to swim the length of the dock, weaving around the poles like a slalom course, without surfacing. And there was always, who could go the deepest and reach the bottom. But you had to bring up proof: a handful of mud.
I used to dream I was swimming underwater and, unable to hold my breath any longer, would finally gasp in water, only to find that I could breathe it. So getting certified in SCUBA when I was a teen was a real dream come true. I could now actually breathe underwater.
But after you dive all the dredge holes in your lake and a few open springs or caverns, unless you want to get crazy and start cave-diving, there’s not a lot more to see in the fresh water lakes and rivers around here. I mean – we don’t have many Edmund Fitzgeralds to explore around these parts.
Saltwater is a whole different thing. There are all kinds of things to see, to find, to shoot and eat there. And with more than two-thirds of this planet undersea, you have way more options.
Certified in the ’70s, I’ve been in and out of scuba diving over the years. Lately, as you might have deduced from my articles on diving the EPCOT Living Seas at Disney and the Blue Hole in Belize, I’m back into it. And, since the oil well blowout in the Gulf this summer made me realize how unique and precious it is, I’ve developed about a tank-a-day average.
What’s the attraction? It is otherworldly – moving weightlessly and almost effortlessly through a beautiful underwater environment with nothing but the sound of your breathing and the unidentifiable calming tones of the water. One friend told me that he heard ethereal fluting and whistling sounds as a pod of porpoise passed him.
And I’ve been doing a lot of spear fishing. To heck with trying to entice fish to take the bait. I go down and pick out the ones I want.
Then, I went down to Venice for a shark tooth dive a couple of weeks ago. The last time I was in Venice, I couldn’t walk down the beach without finding a handful of shark’s teeth. But after decades of beach re-nourishment, there are none to be easily found in the surf.
But go out ½ a mile or so and there, 30 feet below the surface, lay shark’s teeth, and petrified fossils like dugong (manatee) ribs, mastodon and extinct whale bones and, the prize of prizes, megalodon teeth.
Megalodon are, thankfully, extinct, ginormous sharks that reached the size of today’s whale shark. Their teeth can be as big as a man’s hand. They are valuable too, I’m told. One kid supposedly put himself through college finding and selling them. And I found a big one.
Almost five inches from top to bottom, it is what they call a “charter” tooth. In other words, if you sold it, it would pay for the cost of the charter boat, and then some.
Florida’s unique position as a peninsula surrounded by bountiful waters makes it a requirement that we explore, enjoy and preserve as much as we can. Get out there and do it. To do otherwise would be a waste of water, Muad’dib.