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Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

When the Fish Fight Back

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | June 3rd, 2008 | Comments 5 Comments »

I’m in Ko Tao, an island off the southeast coast of Thailand. Quite idyllic, with the best dive sites I’ve seen, lush hillsides, powdery beaches - you know, every one of those brochure clichés that must have been written here first. At the moment, I’m sitting at an open air bar/restaurant listening to the waves that are suddenly active and to pleasant techno jazz on the stereo. There’s a warm, cooling breeze drying my hair. (I just showered, following my night dive.) I’m eating a fabulous fresh steamed tuna in a garlic sauce, slipping bits to a nervous stray cat.
ko-tao.jpgThis magical place is the new partying Cabo, an Asian Key West, a young, oh-too-hip crowd bearing more skin, tattoos and piercings than Palm Springs during spring break. I’ve seen more white faces than natives. My fabulous $6 tuna dinner tonight notwithstanding, there are more restaurants here serving burgers and pizza than Pad Thai noodles. English is the default language of choice, and the median age for travelers seems to about, oh, 24. Even at 33, my cousin is older than most of the crowd partying all night at the beaches and bars. At 47, I’m downright dinosaurish.

The diving has been magical, though. Yesterday, I was attacked by a trigger fish 1/5th my size.
ko-tao-boats.jpgWe had been warned that the naturally territorial fish are particularly aggressive at the site we dove (diver harassment). Trigger fish are one of the few fish that raise their young. Most other females lay and leave their eggs waiting for the males to come along and … do whatever it is they do, with no obvious concern for calling the next morning. The little younguns become wards of the state and make their way the best they can. Triggers, though, nest and create little trigger families in need of sandbox protection.

So, there I was, swimming along in my own little bliss, Sue the dive master-in-training about 20 feet ahead of me, visibility was perfect, when I spot this HUGE FISH charging for her like an NFL linebacker. I thought this finned monstrosity was going to hit her and roll her over. Instead, it tugged on her fin so hard, she turned around thinking it was me trying to get her attention.

Then, the fish did a sharp 90º turn and beelined for ME! I watched this with the calm inevitability of seeing a chain of rearending cars bearing down on me through my rearview mirror on the 405 freeway.

I exhaled and dropped about 3 feet; the fish flew over me, overshooting about 10 feet, then U-turned back at me! It was like one of those late-night cable horror movies: Attack of the Killer Trigger Fish. As taught, I put out my fins perpendicular to the relentless fish, like a couple of royal blue stop signs. Papa Trigger came within a few feet of me, then veered off. Meanwhile, I’m doing this frantic doggie backpaddle, swimming on my back, fins up, looking as ungainly as a manatee in his first race, not daring to take my eyes off this testosterony fish.

It came at me AGAIN! Trust me, I was moving….and had no desire to challenge its turf. It was like being chased by some West Virginian farmer with more shells in his shotgun than teeth in his head after accidentally wandering onto some remote corner of his grungy field.

One of the other dive masters came over, and I guess the now outnumbered trigger-territorialist decided he’d taught US a lesson and went back to tending to the next generation of ichthyterrorists.

Trigger pulled, we dove on.

[There are several dozen dive operations on Ko Tao. I dove with Scuba Junction (, and was impressed with the staff’s knowledge, camaraderie and determination to have a good time. I’ve never laughed so hard – both above and below the water.]

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Category: , Scuba Diving, Thailand
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5 Responses to “When the Fish Fight Back”

  1. Molly Says:

    What a GREAT story! You handled that so well…I wonder if I could have done it half as gracefully - a Manatee in his first race - a great image!

    So you are off on another adventure! I look forward to following along. Dorothy and we had a great vacation in Key West last month - we did some snorkeling…no trigger fish, a few baracuda maybe…

    Obama just clinched the nomination. There is hope.

  2. Christopher Hatton Says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Ironically I was in Ko Toa in late May/early June 1994, before the hordes arrived, and when Thai was still the lingua-franca, however I was also 24. Do you have to wander through the Lagoons to get to your bed?

    Hope you didn’t use up all your air whilst diving and escaping…. I panicked and used up all my oxygen and leave the diving group early… so you handled it better than me, well done and 1I’m awarding you 10 brownie points.

    Alll the best.

  3. Dorothy Says:

    I’ve been reading your blogs and loving your writing! I loved Thiland but never had the chance to dive there. Be sure to dive the Red Sea if you have the opportunity. Are you on you way to Syria?
    I met many wonderful people when I was there.Wish I was there. Love, Dorothy

  4. Pauline Field Says:

    I can picture you down there! Knowing you’re ok, I must say I felt for the fish trying to be a good alpha-male!

    Anyway, sounds like lots of fun!

  5. Thailand Online Shop Says:

    I’ve been reading your blogs and loving your writing! I loved Thiland but never had the chance to dive there. Be sure to dive the Red Sea if you have the opportunity. Are you on you way to Syria?
    I met many wonderful people when I was there.Wish I was there. Love, Dorothy

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