Updated: Jul 19, 2019
As part of the project I want to hear about your amazing Shark and Ray encounters by using the hashtag #jawstories to create an awesome community and library of inspiring pictures, artwork and stories. Please share with me a diving photo you have taken or a piece of your artwork (get creative like I have) of a Shark or Ray along with your story and the hashtag #jawstories. Each week I will pick my favourite and will do a feature on you in my Jaw Stories blog. The goal is to create an archive of jawsome encounter stories, hopefully connecting, inspiring and growing our passion for sharks. Each person I have met who has dived with sharks or rays has had a magical and humbling experience, often fuelling their passion to save our ocean.
My love for the ocean stemmed from learning to scuba dive at 13 years old but my passion for sharks and wanting to save them came from a very special encounter at 17 in Malapascua, Philippines with Thresher sharks. From this dive on I was not afraid anymore. In the space of 5 minutes the very creature I was taught to fear my whole life taught me that these are intelligent, social and inquisitive creatures. Since then the ocean has become my playground and my purpose in life. This very encounter shaped the artist I am today: that’s why there is a thresher shark in my 200 Sharks logo.
Malapascua, Philippines – August 2011
Let me transport you back in time 8 years and to a much younger me. I was in the Philippines on a yearly diving trip that I would go on with my twin sister, brother and the rest of the diving grew (hi to you guys if you are reading this). On this trip we had seen sharks, ship wrecks, amazing corals and more. I was eager to learn more about the thresher sharks after seeing them a few times from a distance. It was towards the end of our diving trip, that I encountered a massive 3 meter shark that appeared cautious and not scared of me. This behaviour puzzled me and fuelled a desire to learn more. So, I did a PADI Shark specialty course which involved learning all different kinds of facts about sharks including, of course, the Thresher shark. I had done the classroom work and taken the shark exam, and now, on the last day of the course, it was time to dive with them. I was so excited as we would be going down in a very small group of 4, so the
chances of getting a closer encounter was much greater. But there was a problem. It was the end of the diving trip and I had developed blocked sinuses, which as you know if you are a diver means you can’t go diving. But I was keen to see the Thresher sharks, so I continued with the dive. We started our descent together and then I hit the wall; I couldn’t equalize at 5 meters. My heart sank watching my twin go down with the other diver master whilst I was stuck in limbo at 5 meters. The dive master was signalling if I wanted to end the dive around 5 minutes in. But I was determined to see a shark, I had a gut feeling that I couldn’t leave the water just yet. 10 minutes went by and according to my logbook I got to around 7 meters and I was coming to the realisation that this dive wasn’t going to happen. I remember signalling to the dive master to end the dive and then he pointed to the left, screaming into his regulator. A flash of sliver and blue, I looked to my right to find myself staring into the massive eyes of a 3 meter thresher shark. My heart stopped, but not from fear but from wonder and amazement. I was speechless. The thresher shark was about one meter away from me, and I was captivated by its amazing big eyes for what seemed like forever, but must have been about 30 seconds. But in those 30 seconds, I had a deep connection, almost like I was having a conversation with the shark. I realised the shark was intrigued by us, observing us through pure curiosity and not because it was seeing if we were food. The shark circled us a few more times, she got so close that I could of reach out and touched her and then she swam off into the blue. Elegantly gliding through the water with her tail trailing behind her like a snake. I remember high fiving the dive master and doing a little happy shark dance, before making our way to the surface and back onto the boat with huge smiles on our faces. Thresher sharks are shy creatures and sharks much like snakes can sense their prey’s heart beat. Scuba diving is noisy with lots of strange bubbles and weird sounds, so to get close to a shark whilst scuba diving is always hard, especially with the timid Thresher. I have watched many annoying divers chasing after sharks to get that photo and in effect scaring the shark away. The fact that we were not moving much in the water and had calmed our breathing and heart rate whilst I was trying to equalised must have encouraged this inquisitive Thresher to check us out. It was a life changing experience for me and helped shape my mission in life: to help save our incredible blue planet.
Thresher shark footage taken at one of the cleaning stations, Malapascua, Philippines
This is my story, I’m sure one in thousands of magical shark and ray encounters that have helped bring a new perspective and passion for the species. An estimated 100-200 million sharks are killed every year around the world, a number that far exceeds a sustainable level for many populations to prosper. The main culprits are culling in attempts to make beaches safer, bycatch from commercial fishing, trophy catches and illegal shark finning. The latter spiked in the 1990’s to feed appetites for shark fin soup – and we say sharks are the ones with the big appetites. Shark fin soup, sometimes known as status soup, is a delicacy in parts of Asia. According to some reports, a bowl of shark fin soup can sell for as much as US$100. But the fearsome reputation of sharks and hyped media attention belies the fact that sharks kill only about six people a year worldwide. Amazingly, bees, wasps, dogs, coconuts and even toasters each kill more humans per year than sharks. It’s these facts combined with my own experiences which have inspired me to create Jaw Stories. A space to combat the negative stigma around sharks and for us the celebrate sharks in all their amazing wonder. Your stories are powerful and I want to help make a space for us to share, inspire and help shift on our perspectives on sharks from one of fear to one of wonderment and respect.
Thank you. I’m really looking forward to sharing your Jaw Stories!