Swimming with sharks

Posted by Christine, October 12, 2011

‘Shark Publicist’ William Winram tags great whites for scientists and captures images of them that confound us. He wants to show that humans’ natural fear of the so-called man-eater has been blown way out of proportion. This photo of him and a tiger shark is by Fred Buyle.

Joe Mozingo of the  Los Angeles Times profiles him:

The great whites stopped nosing around the boat, but they were still out there.

The captain could see them on his depth finder, on the bottom more than 200 feet below.

On the dive platform, William Winram strapped on a low-volume mask and long-blade fins, as did his two friends. Tall and wiry, with cool, narrow-set eyes and sandy-blond hair flecked with gray, Winram is a champion free-diver, capable of holding his breath for eight minutes. He once stroked to a depth of 295 feet and back without oxygen or fins.

Certainly, a great white might take a taste of you if you’re not looking, which might in turn kill you. It happens once in a while. But face-to-face — for the rare person with the disposition to desire such a meeting — they are wary and shy, if not a bit curious. Once comfortable with you, they might let you touch them, even hang on to their dorsal fins and ride them. They’ll show you when they’re angry by head-bumping you, or hungry by rushing you, but usually a good thwack on the nose will send them reeling in shock.

Even the great white’s dynamic with seals is not what you might suspect in the open water, Winram said. Sharks attack injured seals or sneak up on them as they enter the water from the beach. But once the seals can see them in the open water, they are too agile for the sharks to catch.

“I’ve seen them swim all around them and nip the shark in the tail.”

In politics, California gave sharks some protection when Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Friday that bans any sale, trade and possession of shark fins. The bill, which will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, was promulgated to protect the dwindling shark population.

“Researchers estimate that some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent, portending grave threats to our environment and commercial fishing,’’ said Brown. “In the interest of future generations, I have signed this bill.”

“The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping them back in the ocean is not only cruel, but it harms the health of our oceans,” the governor said in a statement.

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