Swimming with Great White Sharks to raise awareness to sharks plight
While swimming with sharks is certainly a thrilling experience, my attraction to purposely come face to face with sharks such as Great Whites, Tigers and others is for a different reason – advocating shark conservation.
Many people fear sharks and have unfortunately only seen them portrayed on TV and in films as mindless man-eating machines. In truth, sharks are intelligent, calculated and generally very cautious about approaching humans. More importantly, sharks play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem . Many people are unaware that sharks are being over-fished to the point of extinction. As the Sengalese environmentalist Baba Dioum said, "In the end people will only protect what they love, and only love what they understand . . .” I hope that by sharing my experiences with sharks I might inspire others to take action and help protect these amazing creatures before it's too late.
Growing up surfing and diving in Hawaii and San Diego, I've shared water with sharks on a regular basis. I’m a professional scuba instructor, surfer, advanced free diver, avid swimmer – I love being in the water as much as possible. I went to college for marine biology and worked as an aquarist and curator with sharks and rays at 3 different marine parks. My best friend and free diving partner, and I both LOVE and appreciate sharks. At home on Oahu, we regularly dive to photograph galapagos, tigers, sandbar, and other reef sharks. I've been privileged to dive with a diverse range of sharks and other cartilaginous animals in my travels around the South Pacific and Caribbean. Many of my dives have also involved interaction with large marine mammals, including humpback whales and curious dolphins. I feel blessed, honored, and extremely lucky to have had such incredible experiences with so many beautiful and magnificent marine animals.
I feel so fortunate that some of the greatest moments of my life have been diving with Great White sharks. I recently took my third swim with a group of Great Whites. 400 million years on this planet has produced an amazing creature and intelligent apex predator. It's difficult to express the incredible joy and breathtaking emotion experienced locking eyes with a Great White shark. Watching the shark acknowledge and observe me, while I peacefully and calmly allowed it to swim towards me, and then experiencing it accepting my touch, allowing me to dorsal and tail ride. The connection felt as I repeatedly pet and hitched a ride on several of these sharks reminded me of my experience with horses. A lot can be said between two creatures that don't speak the same language. Even without eye contact, hanging on to the dorsal fin allowed me to feel the sharks’ subtle unseen movements; feeling the way the water displaced as we glided together, and the gentle but strong swaying of the sharks’ caudal fin (tail) so careful not to kick me as I released my hold. Sometimes the larger dominant females would even become shy or scared of the camera or other divers. While interacting with these sharks I could sense the change in the animals comfort even before physically seeing the change in body movement.
I'm not advising that people go out and just jump in to the water with Great Whites, just as I wouldn't recommend jumping into a yard with a strange dog. Sharks do need to be respected as wild animals and appreciated for their role as top predators in the ocean ecosystem. My shark experiences have all been positive in part because while I know sharks are not mindless man-eaters, I simultaneously have respect for their capabilities, a lot of experience interacting with animals and reading body language, behavior, and I am comfortable with my own water abilities while also trusting my dive partner. Given the number of surfers and swimmers who frequent shark territory in low visibility often dressed in black wetsuits or floating on surfboards portraying a seal-like silhouette, it is a huge testament to sharks sensory systems and intelligence that mistaken identity bites "attacks" are so rare. Like many animals, individual sharks display different dispositions and personalities or temperaments and not all are comfortable with or interested in interaction with humans.
It's sad to think that the human race could be responsible for the extinction of such vital and beautiful animals. Sharks are being over fished and finned at unsustainable rates. IUCN, the main authority on the conservation status of species worldwide, has Great Whites, Tiger sharks, and other species on the Red list as vulnerable to extinction and threatened. There are estimated to be less than 400 great whites in the North Pacific and less than 3,500 great white sharks left worldwide. More than eighteen million people die from starvation and 1.2 million from car accidents. Crocodiles kill more than 2,500 people per year, and even they are protected in many areas. The world offers little to no protection for sharks. Sharks are vital to the oceans and planet. They need and deserve to be protected. Please help save sharks by signing the petition at:www.Oceana.org.
Want to do more to help sharks?
Simply sharing a different view with people who express fear of sharks is also great start to seed change. For more ideas please visit:
White Shark Conservation Trust
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