By Jill Smith
Shark week is coming July 23 -30, but before you tune in to the Discovery Channel, I would like to remind you to take their films with a grain of salt; scary sharks and dangerous situations are sexy, and they sell, but it isn't exactly realistic or even fair. Sharks deserve better. SO important to the health of our oceans and reefs, we need to protect them, not kill them. We should be far more afraid getting into our cars, than diving on a reef; seriously, I should hire a narrator to narrate my drive to the airport; his deep voice, ominous tone, and story-telling ability will have you on pins and needles waiting to find out if I survive the commute: "Jill knows that one wrong move at this point could mean certain death in a fiery crash..." LOL
I'm Signed up for Shark Handling, Baby!
So, in the name of Shark Education, and Shark Conservation, I am super excited to be heading to the Grand Bahamas the second week of August to take the Shark Handling course with Cristina Zenato! WHAT?! OMG, YES!!! This is an experience I have been dreaming of for some time now, and I think I might burst from excitement!
I will be spending my mornings learning about shark behaviour, shark biology, and shark conservation, and in the afternoon, I will be rocking a chain mail suit over my 3 mil, and interacting with sharks under Cristina's direct supervision. WOW! WOW! WOW!
I used to be TERRIFIED of sharks!
Until Jody bought the dive shop, and I started diving with him more frequently in the Caribbean, I was terrified of sharks. Even on our honeymoon, when we went snorkelling to see the turtles, I panicked halfway out and made him turn back ("GO BACK! GO BACK! WE'RE GONNA DIE!"), because I kept imagining a big shark coming at us with jaws open, out of the blue gloom. Sadly, we never got to see the sea turtles on that trip.
I obviously watch too much TV.
Then, I remember when we booked our first AquaCat Scuba cruise, how I fretted about their coveted "shark dive". I'm telling you, I had dreams of my bedroom filling up with blue, glowing water, and becoming infested with sharks (good grief, I hardly got any sleep). I was very anxious about that dive; when the time came, I refused to get into the water until Jody got in first. Then I watched and waited for a minute. Nope, he did not get dragged under by a hungry shark. So with a hope and a prayer, I jumped in with him, and held his arm tightly as we slowly descended. At some 40 feet of depth, Jody tapped my arm and I looked to see what he was pointing at. There she was - a Caribbean Reef Shark, swimming by, minding her own business. She was calm. She was big and beautiful. And she couldn't care less that I was there. She took my breath away. I was in LOVE; hook, line, and sinker.
BEST. DIVE. EVER.
In 2000, Peter Bencheley, the author of Jaws, said that he would never have written the book if he had known the damage it would do to the reputation of the great white shark. Peter has since been an advocate for sharks, trying to help people appreciate their beauty and how necessary they are to the health of our oceans. He said that because of their fearsome reputation "no one appreciates how vulnerable they are to destruction".
Who is Cristina Zenato?
Let me introduce you to Cristina Zenato; she is an incredibly accomplished scuba diver, and I have admired her for a long time, not only for her numerous accomplishments, but for her positive approach to life.
She is the first woman to connect an inland fresh water cave to a salt-water ocean system, she was inducted into the Women's Dive Hall of Fame in 2011, and she has been studying and participating in shark research across the globe for years. Beyond even that, she has developed her practice of inducing a relaxed state in sharks, enabling her to safely remove fish hooks and parasites from the animals. You would think that the sharks would avoid contact with her, but to the contrary, they appear to seek her touch.
Among other things, Cristina instructs the Shark Specialty course, the Shark Handling Experience, and the Shark Handling Course.
Simply for love.
Motivated by the love of sharks, and love of the ocean, she has dedicated her life's work to protecting and honouring both. Cristina initiated a campaign that resulted in the complete protection of all species of sharks in the entire Bahamas, and her objective is to help people appreciate how beautiful, precious, and important sharks are to our world oceans. What an amazing lady - I can't wait to meet her!
What's it going to be like diving with Cristina and her babies? Dunno! I will let you know! Certainly for myself (and, of course, for anyone who is interested in knowing more), I will be documenting my experience through blog and journals. I will not be taking my camera on this trip, as I will be directing my full attention to Cristina and the sharks. Cristina's videographer will be documenting my shark handling dives for me, however, so I hope to have a visual keepsake of this exciting journey!
If you would like to learn more about Cristina Zenato, see her videos, and photos, visit: