A blog was just recently written about touching and interacting with sharks, written by my good friend Mike Neumann. Naturally, there was a few paragraphs about me in there - and my work at Tiger Beach and the rolling and vertical stuff I do. He is not a fan of it and has never been shy about sharing that. Of course, some of his readers use Mike’s blog to voice their dislike for me or the interactions in the comments section — some not so very nice. But it is what it is.
I have known Mike a long time and when we trade emails, there is often a healthy debate and we often just agree to disagree. But the beauty about our friendship is that both of us having a healthy respect for each other. I think the man is great and the things he has helped accomplish in Fiji are awe inspiring. He will go down in shark diving history as one of the greats.
But on to my thoughts and feelings about the interactions I do with sharks. I know that what I do is controversial and many people frown upon it. Frown upon it is a nice word, they just downright “Hate It.” I get it and understand. I know we are all entitled to our opinions. But honestly, I really don’t care what people think about what I do. I know what I do effects change and I have helped dispel the man eating myth for thousands of people around the world. I know that because of these interactions, I have open up their hearts and minds and helped them see sharks differently…and just maybe, to even love sharks?
As for the tiger rolls and the vertical stuff I do. It is not like I forced them to do it, or taught them to do it. They do it all on their own, I am just along for the ride. In fact the very first time a tiger rolled for me, it took me completely by surprise, basically scared the shit out of me, because the shark was teaching me some new behavior and at the time, I was a slow witted student. But after that first one, I began paying closer attention. — I learned to watch for the signs, so when the sharks felt like playing I would be ready and know what to do. And I love it, I love playing with them, I love dancing with them and the sharks it seems, enjoy the interactions as well, because they repeatedly return and ask for more and more. So if they are willing to share these moments with me, teaching me behaviors no one thought possible, why would I not want to continue to learn and of course share them with the world?
Of course some of my critics thoughts are, “what can be possibly learned with the rolling and vert stuff?” But that is not it at all. In fact it seldom happens. Of course when it does happen, there are always cameras going off , because the majority of the people I take diving are photographers— and hell yes, I am going to share them when it happens... Why wouldn’t I? I love what I do.
But what most people miss is simply that sharks allows me to dance with them. They are communicating with us and that is the magic, that is the beauty of it - and it is always evolving and becoming more amazing. The tigers and the lemons continue to surprise me and teach me new things. Especially the lemon sharks, they are amazingly affectionate sharks. They do enjoy interacting with people and like a good nose rub, belly rub and back scratch. In fact, once you earn a lemons trust you often have to keep a good eye on them, because they can surprise you, always wanting attention. Sharks just continue to share exciting new behaviors with me and it gets me fired up to get back out there to see what else they are willing to teach me.
So while the great debate continues on, about whether its ok to touch sharks and interact with them, I will just continue being me - diving with them, and touching them and learning as much as I possibly can… as long as there is a shark out there that feels like dancing. And yes, critics and haters, I will continue to share these controversial experiences with the world in the hopes that I will continue to change how people feel and see sharks. Because people only protect what they love… and I want the world to love sharks.