The Running of the Sharks
by Nancy Stohlman
After the rapture, the sport of bullfighting officially ended. Spanish matadors, national celebrities in crushed velvet, unfit for any other type of work, went sadly unemployed.
Belize saw an opportunity. They designated a section of Shark Ray Alley, several miles off the coast, for The Running of the Sharks, where an assortment of tiger and reef sharks waited in a large cage.
All those who would have made the trip to Pamplona arrived instead in Belize. Thousands lined the swim zone with their boats, everyone wearing the traditional red scarf and eating the traditional red snowcone to symbolize the blood spilled in a good battle. As in Pamplona, participants could be amateur or professional, and the morning of the event they were all stretching and warming up on the decks of boats under the careless sun of a Caribbean morning. Then they gathered in the water.
On the first gunshot the participants had a one-minute head start, a froth of arms and legs swimming toward a safety boat half a mile away. On the second gunshot the cage opened and the sharks were released in a several-minute frenzy of man vs. beast. Medic boats lined the swim zone as pools of red blossomed and the maimed were yanked from the water.
The spectacle culminated in a final match between one shark and one matador in a snorkel and bedazzled wetsuit. The crowd submerged to watch the silent ballet—matador with harpoon and red flippers, shark with two rows of teeth and superior aquatic skills. Bubble gasps escaped from mouths as the matador attempted traditional arabesques and veronicas in the now underwater colosseum, daring to put his body as near to the shark as possible in their delicate dance of death.
But there were new rules: If the shark won he was set free, no shark fin trophies or shark meat for sale in the markets the next day.
To date, the shark has never lost.
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