Stunning underwater video of a Hawaii-based shark conservationist petting and swimming very close to a Great White shark is aimed at teaching people that not all sharks are violent, blood-hungry creatures, according to the people who shot the footage.
Ocean photographer Juan Oliphant made the video and released it as a promotion for the HD camera company called GoPro. The clip, which was released four days ago, already has more than 409,000 hits on the video sharing web site YouTube.
It shows Hawaii shark conservationist Ocean Ramsey swimming with a Great White shark and even hanging on to its dorsal fin as it glides through the water and she flashes the shaka sign.
Asked if she's nervous during dives like this, Ramsey told the Huffington Post, "I dive with sharks on a regular basis. So, nervous, maybe not, but excited, pretty much every time."
Ramsey has been diving with sharks since she was 14 and can hold her breath underwater for more than five minutes, she said.
Oliphant said one reason they were able to have those close encounters with sharks is because Ramsey is free-diving, without scuba tanks that create bubbles that can scare and threaten sharks.
"The hardest thing as a photographer to get these kinds of interactions, is to get the animal to trust you. Even these giant great white sharks, they're very reserved. They're very cautious. They come in, they spook really easy," Oliphant said in an interview with the Huffington Post's website program HuffPost Live.
Ramsey said she does not come across Great White sharks in Hawaii often, and instead sees Galapagos, Tiger and Sand sharks in island waters. She said sharks are threatened by over fishing, with fewer than 3,500 Great Whites remaining around the world.
"As divers, as a surfer, as somebody that's in the water every single day, I see sharks how they really are," Ramsey, who is also a scuba instructor, said. "And it's so sad to see them demonized because people don't want to protect things that they are afraid of."
Oliphant added: "The reason we go out and film them is to show a different side of the animal. 'Cause everyone's got a preconceived idea that they're the demons of the ocean and that they're out to get everybody."
They said sharks are not always in a hungry, feeding mode, which is why many swimmers and surfers have been close to them but have never been bitten.
"A lot of people, they don't know what's beneath them when you go swimming. You've probably been around a lot more sharks than you think when you go surfing and swimming. And that's a testament to the animal that you haven't been attacked," Ramsey said. "With Great Whites, if they don't have the element of surprise, they kind of know that and they know that they're being watched."
Ramsey said while crocodiles kill hundreds and perhaps thousands of people a year around the globe, they are still protected in some areas.
But she said there is little or no protection for sharks around the world, even though they are an important part of the ocean eco-system and are responsible for far fewer deaths.
The Great White shark received new protections earlier this month when a California commission decided it should be studied as a potential endangered species. The Fish and Game Commission unanimously voted to advance the candidacy of the shark, which means during a one-year study review it will receive the same protections it would if it were listed as endangered.
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