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How Does it Feel to Swim with Sharks?

Photo of blue shark.Photo © Kat Wade

Someone yells, "Shark!" and my friends and I, we jump in the water. Antithetical action for most, but as shark divers and conservationists we live for our next face to face encounter with our sleek friends in the deep. We have endured 12-hour crossings of the turbulent Gulf Stream and have been caught in a squall in the cold North Atlantic Ocean, all to film and educate the masses to the threat mankind poses to the survival of the shark and the consequences we all face if these creatures should disappear.

 

When you spend time in the water with sharks you learn they are nothing like their depiction in the movie "Jaws." They are not mindless killing machines that hunt out humans. They eat fish, sea birds and marine mammals and play a crucial role in balancing the ocean's ecosystem.

 

Sadly, humans kill more than 100 million sharks each year, destroying them more quickly than they can reproduce. Most are butchered alive for their fins alone, then thrown back into the ocean to experience a slow death.

 

It is an awe-inspiring privilege to watch a great white shark with rows of razor sharp teeth glide inches from my face with only a curious glance in my direction. To delight in the puppy-dog-like swish of a tiger shark tail as one strokes its massive head. Or, to feel a nudge from the long snout of an indigo colored blue shark as he flies by like a life-fueled jet liner. Sure, there is an adrenaline rush when you look straight into the smile of a shark heading your way that could, if she chooses, consume you in a bite or two. And an overwhelming thrill when she doesn't. But, there is also a deep joy to witness a creature so perfectly designed that it has survived millions of years of evolution without change -- until now.

 

In only a few decades, humans have managed to decimate 90 percent of the world's large fish population, leaving 20 species of sharks to face extinction by 2017. So, when I swim with sharks I am afraid. I am afraid that we may be too late to save these animals, and that future generations will know sharks only through photographs and film. Hope that we will save these animals propels me to capture their grace and beauty for as long as I have the privilege to do so.

 

-- Kat Wade (B.A., ' 98) has spent the past 15 years working as a photojournalist earning numerous awards along the way including Bay Area Press Photographer of the Year in 2006. As a freelancer she pursues her passion for conservation, environmental and social issues. For more information, visit www.katwade.com


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