Diver's magical interaction with endangered sea turtle is no accident
Serena is a young biology student who has swam among the sea creatures and coral in Mexico, Belize and Cuba. One of her favorite underwater animals is the sea turtle. On her adventures, she has met Green Turtles, Loggerhead Turtles and a few of these incredibly rare Hawksbill Turtles. They are critically endangered.
On this dive in Akumal, Mexico, she was cruising over the reef, peering under coral ledges and looking around the sea fans. When she saw a Hawksbill Turtle in the distance, she slowly made her way over and was able to get very close.
It may not be obvious, but her approach was very carefully planned to put the beautiful creature at ease. The first thing Serena did was to move lower in the water to the same level as the turtle. She moved slowly around to the front where the turtle could see her clearly without feeling pinned between her and the reef. Predators, such as sharks, attack from above and behind in a way that is designed to prevent being seen until the last possible moment.
Serena's approach allows the turtle to get a good look at her and make its own assessment of her intentions. She hovers at a respectable distance with her arms in and carefully uses only her fins to adjust her position. Even her breathing is slow, despite her excitement. Her desire to touch the turtle is obvious when she opens her hands and extends them toward it invitingly, but she allows the turtle to make the decision. After a magical moment where the two stare into each other's eyes, the Hawksbill decides that there is no threat and it continues looking for coral and sponges to nibble on.
Surprisingly, the Hawksbill even swims right below Serena as it turns its eyes back to the coral. In doing so, the turtle put itself close enough to Serena that she could have easily touched it.
Serena again moves lower and to the left to avoid seeming like a threat directly above. The pair continued to swim together over the reef for almost ten minutes, allowing an interaction that few people are lucky enough to ever experience.
Like all sea turtles, this Hawksbill is capable of short bursts of speed that could instantly take it far away from her. The fact that it continued to glide slowly along, completely comfortable with the interaction provided Serena with one of the most peaceful and emotional experiences possible for a diver.
We rarely give animals enough credit for their intelligence, perceptiveness, and ability to communicate. We are now starting to understand that without words, animals must use many other cues to interpret meaning and intent from the actions of other animals. Small movements, gestures, distance, and even our breathing will tell an animal more than we expect. We can also learn a lot when it comes to interpreting an animal's behavior and comfort level.
A careful and respectful approach will create a completely different encounter than a careless one.