Why do I swim with sharks? This is a question the media and people in general ask me all the time. Of course it is a loaded question, the subtext being, how can you swim with man-eaters, don’t you know they might kill you?! So no, I don’t have a death wish, and no, I have not got special life insurance cover, and no I have not been bitten by a shark before or had any close encounter despite diving with them for over 15 years now. In all the hours I have spent underwater I have only experienced sharks to be beautiful, graceful and intelligent animals. And no, I am not different (i.e. crazy), I am just brave, and my being brave has little to do with me diving with sharks and everything to do with following my dreams and fighting for something I believe in.
As a marine and shark conservationist I am always looking to reach the general public in compelling ways with my conservation messages. One of my biggest challenges has been changing peoples negative perceptions of sharks. In my previous blog I wrote about the images I had taken of me freediving with sharks in nothing but my bikini, why I did it, mainly to show by example that sharks are not the man-eating monsters they are made out to be, but rather incredibly beautiful animals that deserve our respect and protection. While on average only 5 people worldwide are killed by sharks, up to 100 million sharks are being slaughtered every year, mostly for their fins. Many shark species are on the brink of extinction. They grow slowly, mature late, have few young and cannot keep up with the fishing pressure inflicted upon them. We need our sharks alive. Simply put, when our sharks die, our oceans die, when our oceans die, we die – everything in Nature is connected, and we are a part of Nature.
Since that blog post those same images have continued to have a life of their own, reaching literally millions of people worldwide including in China, Mexico, Australia, UK (Daily Mail, Daily Mirror), USA (I will be on Inside Edition), Italy (cover article on leading newspaper), Spain, Czech Republic, and so many other countries.
But I digress, I am trying to tell you why I dive with sharks and instead of writing more about it I invite you to watch my awareness video, FREEDIVING WITH SHARKS below. I have also included in this post an extract from my article Freediving with the Tigers of the Sea, which is about my last freediving shoot, and which has been published in various diving magazines worldwide. Both of these will answer the question well.
Freediving with the Tigers of the Sea (extract)
“You have to use your snorkel Lesley, you need to be looking behind you when floating on the surface all the time,” says Scott Smith persistently when I question why he doesn’t think me freediving with the tiger sharks without a snorkel is a good idea.
Scott elaborates: “I’ve watched a freediver being bitten by a tiger shark. We were standing on the stern watching him floating on the surface when the shark snuck up from behind him and bit down on his body – we thought: that’s it for this guy, he’s about to be bitten in half, he’s a gone-no! But the shark only mouthed him gently, a few puncture holes in his wetsuit and not a single bit of his skin was broken.
Scott’s story highlights once again those misperceptions people have of sharks being monster man-eaters with insatiable appetites for humans. Clearly that tiger shark was curious and not having hands to investigate the freediver, it gently mouthed him instead, before deciding he wasn’t on its menu. Quite simply, if it wanted to eat him, it would have.
I’ve returned to shark lover’s paradise, Tiger Beach in the Bahamas on another photographic expedition on board the Dolphin Dream owned by Scott. I’m here gathering images and footage for a new shark awareness video called Freediving with Sharks, and for my book project for the AfriOceans Conservation Alliance, the organization I founded and run.
Last year when I first freedived with the tiger sharks I felt nervous before I got in: Put a tank on my back and throw me into ‘shark infested’ waters and I’m in heaven. But though I’d done a bit of freediving with blacktip sharks, freediving with 40 big lemon sharks, and what is suppose to be the second most dangerous shark in the world, the tiger shark, with nothing but my bikini, made me feel vulnerable. My misplaced fear dissolved into the infinite turquoise visibility the second I dove down to experience the simple joy of being free with the animals I love so much. It was then that I caught the freediving bug and was determined to return with better freediving skills one day. The day has arrived eighteen months later and I’m super confident, fear is alien now. Having trained with Trevor Hutton, South Africa’s most accomplished freediver, I’m enjoying more bottom time with the sharks, loving the freedom only freediving brings.
Freediving with the majestic tigers of the sea is a true privileged, the warm water on my skin and just the air in my lungs, her and me side by side. I know I will do this till the day I die. And if it’s God’s will that a shark takes me, considering the very slim chance of that happening since only about five people are killed by sharks a year, I’d consider that the perfect way for me to go. – End –
What I am up to in the next short while: I will be returning to the Bahamas in November and available for speaking events, please email me direct. I will be leading two dive/photographic expeditions to South Africa in 2014, an African Shark Safari and a Sardine Run 2014 Expedition – I will be posting the details in the next week on <http://www.sharkwarrior.com>. In the meanwhile email me direct if you are interested – my email: email@example.com
A BIG thanks Scott Smith of the Dolphin Dream Team and to Mike Ellis for the beautiful pictures of the sharks and me.
Please support my efforts and click on the image below to support Shark Conservation – should you donate and win, you can choose the image you want of the sharks and me if the one below is not your favorite – see the slide show above to choose.
Watch my space!