The first time I saw a shark I was a kid surfing a beach in Malibu California. Jaws had just been released and a huge hype and fear existed around sharks and shark attacks. Waiting for a wave between sets, a fellow surfer and I were startled by splash, followed by a fin. The surfer freaked out and started paddling in, as a I watched a six foot female leopard shark lifted by the window of a wave. The beauty of that shark struck me with awe, and although it took decades before I would found Shark Stewards to protect sharks, I dived, surfed and swam with thousands of sharks with hundred of species in between.
This week is Discovery Channel’s much vaunted Shark Week, a program watched by millions, often with content that generates fear and hysteria, perpetuating the myth that sharks are villains and man-eaters. Each year about this time, we swim for sharks wherever I may be, to raise awareness that sharks provide important ecosystem services, are diverse and beautiful, and are actually not villains but are victims.
Starting in San Francisco in 2013 we have been swimming for sharks to raise awareness in a fun and healthy way. The first swim was the 2.5 around Alcatraz (former prison, famed for the shark “infested waters”- we call them inhabited) See the film.
We have transected the Bay, swam around an island in Malaysia where we helped reintroduce sharks and where conservation partners at TRACC are restoring the reef and protecting the marine life.
This year a group us with our new research and conservation partners in Indonesia at SORCE (Sustainable Oceans Research, Conservation and Education) I swam to Asahan Island and back, (including Wolfy, Willy and Ollie aged 8, 6 and 4 who paddled the shallows) while our friends back home swam in the San Francisco Bay. Swim for sharks this week and share your story during Shark Week! This shark week we are encouraging swimmers to jump in and shout out for sharks on social media including instagram @sharkstewards.
I swim open water because it connects me to nature and brings me peace. I dive with sharks because they are beautifully adapted animals perfected by hundreds of millions of years to their ecological niches in the ocean. I swim for sharks because the large species are disappearing from the seas, rays are vanishing and even the unlikely guitarfish is becoming threatened with extinction for their fins. I swim for sharks because I swim for a healthy ocean, and a hope healthy future generations of ocean life, including we humans who love to swim. Keep swimming!
Learn more at Shark Stewards or support a swimmer.