Af­ter swim with great white, calls for pro­tec­tion

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Obituaries / News - BY CALEB JONES As­so­ci­ated Press

Two shark re­searchers who came face to face with what could be one of the largest great whites ever recorded are us­ing their en­counter as an op­por­tu­nity to push for leg­is­la­tion that would pro­tect sharks in Hawaii.

Ocean Ram­sey, a shark re­searcher and con­ser­va­tion­ist, told The As­so­ci­ated Press that she en­coun­tered the 20-foot shark Tues­day near a dead sperm whale off Oahu.

The event was doc­u­mented and shared on so­cial me­dia by her fi­ance and busi­ness part­ner Juan Oliphant.

The Hawaii De­part­ment of Land and Nat­u­ral Re­sources said it was aware of pho­tos of the great white and that tiger sharks also have been feed­ing on the whale.

Oliphant, who pho­tographed the now-vi­ral im­ages, said it’s un­clear if the shark is the famed Deep Blue, be­lieved to be the largest great white ever recorded.

“She looks the part right now,” Oliphant said about the shark spot­ted Tues­day. “Maybe even more ex­cit­ing that there is an­other mas­sive, you know, su­per-size great white shark out there. Be­cause their pop­u­la­tions are so dwin­dling.”

Ram­sey, who op­er­ates Oahu-based One Ocean Div­ing and Re­search with Oliphant, said she has been push­ing for sev­eral years for a bill that would ban the killing of sharks and rays in Hawaii, and hopes this year the mea­sure will be­come law.

She said the im­ages of her swim­ming next to a huge great white shark prove the preda­tors should be pro­tected, not feared.

Still, the veteran shark diver doesn’t think the gen­eral pub­lic should reck­lessly get into the wa­ter with the gi­ants, es­pe­cially around a food source like a rot­ting whale car­cass.

Ram­sey said ex­ten­sive train­ing and time spent study­ing shark be­hav­ior has kept her team and cus­tomers safe. She teaches peo­ple about how to act and, more im­por­tantly, not act when they en­counter a shark in the wa­ter.

Ram­sey and her team ob­serve be­hav­ior, iden­tify and tag sharks and share that data with re­searchers as well as state and fed­eral of­fi­cials. She said she pre­vi­ously swam with the huge shark on re­search trips to Guadalupe Is­land, Mexico.

She also leads cage-free shark div­ing tours.

Un­like many ma­rine mam­mals, sharks are not a fed­er­ally pro­tected species, though there are laws against the sale of their fins.

“There’s not a lot of sym­pa­thy for sharks be- cause of the way they’re por­trayed in me­dia and they don’t have the cute cud­dly ap­pear­ance,” Ram­sey said. “You can’t hate them for be­ing preda­tors. We need them for healthy ma­rine ecosys­tems.”

Ram­sey and Oliphant want to make sure that peo­ple re­al­ize that shark bites are un­com­mon.

“The idea that they see peo­ple as a food source, that is rub­bish and that needs to go away be­cause re­ally that’s ul­ti­mately lead­ing to the demise of these an­i­mals,” Oliphant said.

State Sen. Mike Gab­bard spon­sored the shark pro­tec­tion leg­is­la­tion last ses­sion and plans to rein­tro­duce it this year. The bill died in the House when it wasn’t heard by the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

The Hawaii De­part­ment of Land and Nat­u­ral Re­sources said the de­com­pos­ing whale car­cass had drifted to about eight miles south of Pearl Har­bor af­ter be­ing towed 15 miles off­shore days ear­lier.

Of­fi­cials say there have been re­ports that peo­ple are climb­ing onto the car­cass to take its teeth as sou­venirs, which may be a vi­o­la­tion of state and fed­eral laws.

The agency’s Di­vi­sion of Con­ser­va­tion and Re­sources En­force­ment Chief Ja­son Redull said peo­ple should stay out of the wa­ter around the dead whale.

JUAN OLIPHANT AP

In this Jan. 15 photo pro­vided by Juan Oliphant, Ocean Ram­sey, a shark re­searcher and ad­vo­cate, swims with a large great white shark off the shore of Oahu, Hawaii.

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