Posted 21 March 2016
BIG PARTY IN  WHITE VALLEY
As when reading a book or watching a film, STEVE WEINMAN likes to avoid spoilers and arrive open-minded at an unfamiliar destination ready for what he hopes will be pleasant surprises. So how would the tourist heart of French Polynesia measure up?
Posted 21 March 2016
As when reading a book or watching a film, STEVE WEINMAN likes to avoid spoilers and arrive open-minded at an unfamiliar destination ready for what he hopes will be pleasant surprises. So how would the tourist heart of French Polynesia measure up?
BIG PARTY IN  WHITE VALLEY
WE'RE ON OUR WAY OUT for an afternoon dive, but first we make a detour to a fish-processing plant. An old hull at the quay groans under the weight of discarded fish-heads, mostly from big tuna, though the stench is less overpowering than I expect.
One of the crew of our TopDive boat leaps onto the heap and selects more than a dozen heads, tossing them into a perforated cylindrical container. 
He is about to jump back when he notices an unusually large, dark head with starry white spots, grabs it and rams that in too. I can’t identify the species, and on asking I’m told it’s from a “deepwater salmon”.
We motor out to the White Valley dive-site, where the lidded bucket is set down on a flat area of seabed in about 18m. As its contents start wafting fragrant signals through the water, we back-roll in. 
We’ve been told to settle close to some coral outcrops, and to be aware that hidden eels can venture out of the coral and take divers by surprise. But any thoughts of marauding morays are rapidly driven from my mind.
The action is already well underway as we take our places for an hour-long live show. It’s a gob-smacking scene that’s about to smack even harder. The fish-head container is now at the vortex of a swirling mass of sizeable fish that all seem to know their place in a hierarchy. 
The restless mass rises and falls, bunches and extends, its base formed by blue-striped snapper with a dense layer of chunky humpback red snapper above them.
These snapper I reckon to be among the most photogenic of fish, with their grey-to-ruddy flanks, fiery-coloured pectoral fins and “faces” that at times can appear cartoon-human. They’re wonderful to watch.
There are other fish in the swirl too – thousands of bluestreak fusiliers, big lone emperors and blubberlips snapper. Preferring a lofty overview, jack patrol at a higher level.
As in those bar-brawls in old Westerns, where a character actor crawls out from the melee, straightens his Stetson, picks up a chair and dives back into the fray, 
so from time to time a baffled-looking porcupinefish, a titan triggerfish, an unattached remora or even, comically, a tiny butterflyfish emerges, reflects briefly on what the hell it’s doing there, and then decides to stay in the moment and plunge back into the bouillabaisse.

AND THEN THERE ARE THE SHARKS. Blacktips, dozens of them, chase around like over-excited dogs. As faithful as canines, they are our constant companions in French Polynesia. 
Several sizes up are the grey reef sharks, also present in numbers, less frenetic but still keen not to miss out on this social occasion.
Humans who can’t resist the aroma and warmth of high-street coffee-shops are induced to pay way over the odds for a hot beverage. Similarly, these Pacific islanders can’t resist the odour of rotting tuna and the electrical activity generated by mass movement of marine life.
I’m transfixed by the central spectacle, but also trying to take in what’s happening on the periphery in the 20m-or-so visibility. Sharks come and go at a bewildering rate, including one or two large lemons, but they play it cool and don’t hang around for long.
But lemon sharks are not the apex predator here, because the tiger sharks are out in force this fine afternoon, and once you lock onto them, everything else becomes background.
It turns out that there are four specimens around, which is highly unusual. And even on the scale of these stripy big boys, one of the four is such a giant that for a moment I have that rare experience of hardly believing my eyes.
It happens when a vast


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