Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A Reasonably Healthy Love For Sharks - Part 1

By Ryan Pearson
Before I get into the real reason I wanted to write this story (shark conservation), let me start by telling you a bit about how I developed the mindset I currently find myself in. As a result, this story will be in two parts… Part 1 begins now...

I love sharks. It’s true, they make me feel all gooey inside. I love pictures of them, I love diving with them, I love taking pictures of then, and I love the wide range of shapes and sizes they come in (a thing that can not always be said about the human species). Before you go down the bestiality route, let me tell you - it’s not that kind of love. However, don’t go thinking that I’m just one of those nuts with a death wish, because I didn’t always feel this way. 

Before I started diving, I was one of the Jaws generation that had a deep seeded fear of sharks. Whenever I was in the water I was aware that at any point a shark could ‘smell’ me and think I was a tasty dinner treat. This was even in the pool when I was really young - thanks to some movie I don’t remember the name of showing sharks moving through the pipeline into the pool and devouring everyone within it.
A Leopard Shark at Julian Rocks, Byron Bay. (Stegostoma fasciatum). Ryan Pearson

Even after I got my Open Water dive certificate at the end of 2009, I didn’t want to have anything to do with the animals. But I’m now aware that this unreasonable fear was only due to media sensationalism, and a lack self-education. Thanks to some encouragement from my diving buddies, I built up the courage and first dived with a species called leopard sharks (zebra sharks elsewhere in the world) off North Stradbroke Island. This was an eye-opening experience to say the least. It showed me that not all sharks are out to eat people, hell, many of them don’t even have the ability to eat people. Despite growing to over six feet in length, leopard sharks are essentially the puppy dogs of the sea. You can quite literally pick them up, pat them, and on occasion they would pretty much let you carry them all the way back to the boat. These sharks however, have no teeth, so while the experience was amazing and gave me some respect for the animals, it did not go a long way to removing my fear of the toothy kind. The one thing it did achieve was giving me a thirst for shark diving which lead me to want to dive with a ‘scarier’ shark species. 

Grey Nurse Shark at Sth Solitary Island (Carcharias taurus). Ryan Pearson
Bring on the Grey Nurse sharks. These guys really look the part, they’re called ragged tooth sharks elsewhere in the world because of the multitude of needle-like teeth that protrude from their face-holes. Fish Rock, at South West Rocks was the location. My very first ‘deep’ dive as part of the Advanced Open Water course, and also my first dive with the infamous, yet endangered, Grey Nurse Sharks. The visibility in the water was low, only about 5m, and we were down in the dark depths at about 30m when the first shark appeared. Then there were many of them, all hovering around the edge of vision. All I could see was silhouettes of near three metre monsters. But by this stage I knew enough about them to know they weren’t monsters at all. They were amazing! The real monsters in the story of Grey Nurse Sharks are humans because we almost fished them into extinction simply because they looked like man-eaters, when in fact they can’t possibly eat something as large and boney as a human – but we’ll get to that in part two.

My point is, I have developed a love for sharks over my time spent diving with them, and researching them. I am yet to dive with the really big (and some would say aggressive) guys like the Whites, Tigers, and Bull sharks. And while I still hold some fear deep in my psyche in anticipation of that day, I now know enough about them to believe that this fear will instantly dissolve and become a much healthier respect as soon as I’m in the water with them. After all, people dive with sharks of all kinds every single day, and yet attacks are so rare... I wonder why that is?

Part two will explore shark conservation including the dark realm of shark products, and the sharks real effect on the entire global system… stay chewed... *cough cough* I mean ‘stay tuned’.

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