Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Caged in: Tiger Beach

The fact that sharks are in serious trouble should not be news to anyone reading this. Shark populations are being devastated globally and they need all the help they can get. We spend a lot of time in the Bahamas enjoying some of the world’s most amazing shark dives and the islands have a special place in my heart. I am not Bahamian, but I spend a lot of my time there and care deeply about the islands, the people and the oceans that surround them. (I am writing this blog sitting at a house on the West End of Grand Bahama Island). The Bahamas are home to a divers range of shark species, with fairly healthy populations. Commercial long lining and finning operation yet have not spoiled the oceans here, but the threat is continuously looming in the distance. PEW, The Bahamas National Trust and the people of the Bahamas are standing up to fight for something they believe in; a live shark is far more valuable than a dead one. Together they are speaking loud and the message is spreading. Strength comes in numbers and the power of passionate people is incredible. I honestly believe the sharks are the Bahamas will be protected.

Most people reading this are shark lovers or at least fans, so encouraging you to shark dive is easy enough. What about your family and friends? Are they scuba divers? Have they ever seen a shark? Do they think you are crazy for getting in the water with man-eating beasts? Do they realize they do not have to be certified to get in the water with sharks?

When it comes to shark diving, everyone has an opinion; even people who have never seen a shark have something to say. It triggers strong emotions- love, hate, terror and ridicule. As someone who has made a career out of shark diving and spent thousands of hours with these animals, I am obviously a huge proponent for it. In my opinion, there is no greater tool in the quest to fight stereotypes about sharks than sticking someone in the water with a shark. Within 5 minutes the Jaws mentality has been replaced with excitement and awe. The majority of the population are not certified divers, so does this mean they do not have the right to see a shark up close? Here is where shark cages come in. A lot of people think they are unnecessary, particularly in places like Tiger Beach, but they serve an unrivaled purpose. They increase the audience that can be reached in the campaign to save sharks. The cage allows people to safely and comfortable watch the animals in a natural environment. They can see the sharks swim, eat and even make eye contact with them. I love seeing how excited people get as everything they thought they knew disappears and they get lost watching these incredible animals.

Just last week I shared a moment in the cage with a guy that had traveled from Canada to see his first shark. I have been emailing with Brian for nearly 3 years and his moment was finally happening. He could hardly hold the regulator in this mouth as a massive lemon cruised by. Brian did not stop smiling the entire trip. He is not a certified diver, just a lover of sharks, who now wants to get certified.

"I had such a wonderful time out on the water and being on the boat. From the excitement of waiting to see the first shark show up, to the thrill of seeing my first ever shark. It is a moment I will never forget. Thanks so much. I fell in love with the Bahamas and the sharks."

I have been leading cage trips for Incredible Adventures for 5 years and I have experienced some of my most memorable moments under water, from within the cage. I will admit that I prefer diving without the cage, especially for filming, but I also have a thousand reasons why the cage has a well-deserved place in the world of shark diving.

People ask me if the sharks get boring or old, and thankfully I have not become jaded. I know I never will because I am so thankful for every moment in the ocean. I get just as excited about a small nurse shark as I do a massive tiger shark. To me, they are the most incredible creations of nature. I think I get even more excited when someone has that first moment, when I can see him or her evolve and the joy that they are overwhelmed with. Knowing I have just helped someone become a shark advocate is extremely rewarding and is something I hope to always be able to do. It is such a rush, one person at a time. It is extremely rewarding and reminds me that there is hope; hope for sharks and hope for our oceans.

I am not saying that everyone should build their own cage and head out to sea, but I am saying that with training or a guide, shark diving is something ANYONE can do and EVERYONE should do!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Jillian for the mention in your blog. It means a lot to me. From reading your blogs and enjoying your various shark pictures and stories from Facebook to meeting and spending the day with you on the boat and in the cage at Tiger Beach. You not only inspired me to want to get Scuba certified but you also gained another voice to speak on behalf of the sharks and perhaps change the way that friends, family and people I know view and perceive sharks.
    I am looking forward to the day that I get the chance to dive with you again and get introduced to some new sharks.