Monday, April 27, 2009

Scoring a Try for Sharks

(Julie with The Crusaders post-dive. Photo by Mark Addison.)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany a very special team of individuals when they encountered sharks for the first time. And, the results similar to so many before them, for this shark conservationist, were inspiring. And reminded me again why this fight is so worth fighting.

While still in Durban last week, I joined New Zealand’s Rugby team, the Crusaders, many of whom are also All Blacks, on their first dive with the sharks of Shark Park. I have got to hand it to the guys – they endured some of the worst conditions I have ever dove in. The seas were so rough that it took almost 20 minutes to launch! And after a harrowing ride out to the dive site, all of the big, tough guys were looking, well not so tough and rather green – and not just because they were a bit nervous.

But, they jumped in and in a heartbeat, shifted their perspectives. Entering into a sea of blacktips, they eagerly pointed them out to one another as they swam amongst them. It wasn’t long before our first tiger, a girl I call Smiley in memory of my brother’s adopted greyhound who also had a permanent grin on her face, showed up. In true Smiley form, she swam towards us on the surface, quite inquisitive and quite close. Between her unnerving grin delivered what some might call way too close for comfort, and the brutal seas which resulted in everyone hurling including myself, it was a day not to be forgotten!

When we got back to Blue Wilderness, the guys were incredibly charged up and quite passionate about their experience, embarrassed that perhaps they too had once fallen for the “Jaws” myth. But when it came time to do my ten minute conservation briefing that I do at the end of most dives, as part of the diving conservation program we are rolling out, I figured there was no way I would keep these superstars’ attentions. Especially because lunch had been served.

But, just as Smiley’s behavior had startled them, theirs’ completely floored me. They stopped and gave me their full attention, hung on every word, asked dozens of educated questions and on that afternoon, became passionate shark conservationists.

After the presentation, Paul and I interviewed them on camera for a piece that was being aired here in South Africa and I couldn’t have been prouder of their genuine and educated perspective. Rugby player after rugby player recanted the sadness they felt with the realization that sharks are misunderstood and how tragic it is that it is that irrational fear, in some ways, leading to their demise. And each declared how they were personally going to change that. In fact, we are now working together with Blue Wilderness and the Crusaders to put together a powerful viral video on the experience that carries a strong conservation message that will be posted, amongst other places on their website.

It isn’t because they are famous, or heros to a whole legion of fans, that I was delighted to be in their presence. I am not the type to get star-struck and personally, given my complete American-based ignorance to the sport, that fame is wasted on me. But, the fact that they have decided to use that fame and reach people that most of us never could is why the Crusaders are now my heros too.

(The original Smiley. The similarities are haunting, no?)

No comments: