The Shark Whisperer
I love marine life. Sharks in particular amaze me – seriously, every single thing about them. I’ll get engrossed in a tv special about them in a split second. For this reason, I wish I’d done better in school and went on to excel in marine biology. Either that or writing, my two true loves in life. 😀
I watched what was actually a rerun of a special the other night where CNN’s Anderson Cooper had the amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of free-diving with professional “Sharkman” Mike Rutzen. Free diving. This means cageless. With Great White sharks.
The Great White is by far the most dangerous and powerful shark known to man. It always blows me away to see how massive these sharks were, so witnessing a human being free-diving with them is quite remarkable. Click here to see the 13-minute special aired on CBS’s 60 minutes.
It seems that I’m always learning something new about sharks – guess I can attribute this to the interest factor in that I’m always paying attention! First, contrary to what some people believe, they are not blind or even partially so. Mike said that they actually like to make eye contact with humans! Can you imagine making eye contact with a Great White up close and personal? Also, a sharks eyes are not black, they are actually blue. As he and a great white swam past each other while making eye contact, he pointed the color out – and you could even see the sharks eyes turn to him. The sharks seem to ‘like’ him. Um again, these are Great Whites – the same predator depicted in the movie Jaws!
Now, he doesn’t just free-dive into any old Great White infested waters, mind you. He ‘feels out’ the sharks beforehand – deciphering their ‘personality’ or ‘current mood’. This is how he will decide if the shark is what he calls ‘a player’, an endearing term he uses to describe a curious shark. With all the criteria in place – in he goes.
Mike “Sharkman” Rutzen owns and operates his own dive company off the coast of South Africa called Shark Diving Unlimited. For a nominal fee you’ll be able to cage-dive, allowing you to safely observe the sharks for yourself (you’ll just need to travel to Africa to do it with him). I can’t think of a single thing in life more awesome than the opportunity to do this. Along with his faithful and professional crew, he operates the business with his vessel Barracuda – a 12.5 meter Lee Cat specifically built for Great White shark cage diving. Her twin hull makes her extremely stable… admittedly by SDU, a good thing to keep in mind if you’re prone to sea sickness! With a maximum of 21 clients each trip, the back deck is spacious with an upstairs viewing deck that offers a great vantage point to watch the action. All diving equipment, towels and picnic lunch are on board, as well as all required safety equipment including two 15-man liferafts.
Michael believes that he is able to decipher the body language of great white sharks – and proves his theory by altering his own body language to maintain control of the interactions. By making his body smaller, he can attract a curious shark; by making himself bigger in the water he can deter a confident shark. His golden rule is to ‘stand your ground – because everything that swims away from a Great White shark is potential prey’.
German filmmaker Ralf Kiefner made a wonderful film about Michael free-diving with Great Whites. The film is called Beyond Fear and was broadcast on National Geographic. Since the release of the film, Michael has become known world-wide for his unique understanding of Great White shark behavior.
By free-diving with these magnificent creatures, Michael hopes to increase awareness of the many shark-killers out there that still exist, as well as promote the ‘gentler’ side of sharks. He believes this to be a crucial step in the right direction in changing the public’s negative image of these majestic predators.
In his native South-African accent, Michael jovially states that he’s always felt he will be one of those who die at a younger age. When asked why, he replied, “Well you know… I smoke too much, drink too much, and I like to drive my car really fast.” AC asked, “But it won’t be from a Great White?” to which Michael replied with a sly grin, “Naw”.
Information and photos derived from www.sharkdivingunlimited.com