What in the heck just happened?! I had no clue. I had never heard of an electric fish. I had heard of electric eels but not a fish. I wondered if my body had just malfunctioned. A haze of confusion hung over me as the fish gave a few swishes of its tail and moved about 6-feet away and then just drifted once again in the current. That fish just rocked me and it wasn’t just a little shock. It stopped my body down completely for a moment and left me stunned. I had to shake it off for a a minute or so. Meanwhile, Thor approached me and gave me a smile. I guess he thought it was cool that I rode on the fish even if it was just a matter of moments. I tried to explain with my hands what had just happened to me. I motioned “electric shock” which is a hard thing to communicate 30-feet below the surface. I just kept opening and closing my hands quickly and violently while I rolled my eyes hoping he would understand I was just shocked by that monster fish floating 6-feet away. He apparently didn’t understand, because he went over to the fish and touched it. He petted it. He stroked it. He put both hands on it and moved them slowly across its body. He was caressing this fish and it did nothing but float there and take it. He didn’t get a shock. My brain still couldn’t process what had just happen and now seeing Thor getting just about as sensual as you could with a fish and not feeling any repercussions left me even more confused. I swam next to him and indicated he shouldn’t touch it. Now the fish started to move away and we just let it go.
We were each at about 700 psi so we slowly made our way up to the surface. Upon reaching the top I explained to Thor what had happened. He thought my hand signal for “electric shock” was my way of expressing excitement about my short ride on the back of the fish. He said he received no shock when he touched the fish. We continued the discussion as we kicked back to the beach. At that point you couldn’t Google anything (yes, there was a time before Google), so we just had to wait until we returned our gear to the rental shop in hopes the owner would impart some knowledge. And he did. He explained a little about the fish we encountered. It was the Pacific Electric Ray. He told us these solitary creatures can generate up to 45-volts of electricity for subduing prey or self-defense (which, in my case, it was clearly self-defense). He read straight out of a book full of descriptions on marine creatures: “Care should be taken around the Pacific Electric Ray as it is known to act aggressively if provoked and its electric shock can potentially incapacitate a diver.” Ok, well clearly I lucked out because I was only incapacitated for a moment. But why did I get shocked, and not Thor? We basically did the same thing. It turns out after the Pacific Electric Ray shocks its prey, they have to recharge, so I received the brunt of the electric charge, while Thor was able to snuggle up next to it without so much as a buzz, because it didn’t have anything left to give.
Long story short, my vision of riding a Pacific Electric Ray around the kelp forest was probably one of the most lamebrain things I’ve done (ok not really, but it’s up there). Here’s the walk away: 1) Don’t mess with something you aren’t familiar with; 2) Don’t ride things underwater (it’s not cool anymore); 3) If something stands its ground in the ocean, it probably has a great self-defense mechanism; 4) We need to come up with a scuba hand signal for “That thing just shocked the hell out of me!”
Thanks to Ludek Subrt at Dive & Photo for these great photographs!