Friday, 9 March 2012

Nice video but don't get carried away...

Mark Healey seems like a pretty cool dude, he's a surfer, spear fisherman and general all around waterman, he's also the focus of this short video currently doing the rounds on Facebook.


Patric blogged about it and I have to say, I agree with him completely, first off, it's a nicely made little film, some of the shots are great, Mark is great on camera and it is obvious he's a straight up, genuine guy with a love of the ocean borne from spending most of his life on or in it.

The problem is, I have seen this being spread around as "proving that Bull Sharks aren't dangerous" but it doesn't do anything of the sort, it does though prove one thing and please, read this carefully;

You can take a measured risk with big, dangerous sharks, you can stack the odds in your favour and you might just get away with it.

That is what this video proves and nothing else, I don't even think the premise of the film is to prove anything about sharks, it's just been chucked in there as justification for someone doing something a bit gnarly, that's not Mark's fault, it's just the done thing these days.

This is an advert for Monster, an energy drink, something which gives you a buzz, henceforth, imagery which extols the virtues of being a bit extreme, a thrill seeker, an adrenalin junkie, help sell what is an (sickening marketing speak alarm!) "aspirational lifestyle" brand. Monster don't want to get actively involved in changing perceptions of sharks, they want people to watch the video, go on Facebook and say, "Shit! check out this crazy dude diving with Bull Sharks!" I would wager that not one single person's perceptions of sharks were changed by this film.

As an aside, at least Monster are showing sharks in a better way than most brands, especially more so than the energy drink "Shark," a brand which calls itself "Shark," has the logo as the word "Shark" shaped like a shark yet who told me they "do not want to associate themselves with sharks because of the negative stereotype," hmmm, go figure...

Which brings me on to my next point, the obsession with having to redefine sharks, what was once a supreme example of evolution, an icon, a cultural behemoth, is now seen as one of two things, teeth or fins, and that, to me, is really, really sad.

The Bull Shark is a big, powerful, potentially dangerous shark which every year, bites some people and usually kills one or two as well. However, anyone with any proper experience or knowledge of these animals, which I am fortunate enough to have, including experience with the sharks in the video above, will tell you that whilst they are all the above, they are also a measured, an often cautious and astute shark. The Bull Shark is not at all impulsive, it is not some raging testosterone filled bully, it's a big, badass shark which knows it's a badass and therefore has the presence and confidence to weigh up any situation before deciding what to do.

I have done almost fifty dives with the Bull Sharks of Shark Reef (a mile away from Lake Reef, the location in the video) and can attest to the intelligence, charisma, power but also individual personalities of these sharks. Every dive was different, each shark was different but if we are going to make generic statements about a species of shark, then I would say they can be best described as a heavyweight boxer during the first thirty seconds of the first round of a fight, weighing up an opponent, he knows he has the tools to do serious damage but he doesn't just go hurling himself into battle without thought or consideration for the consequences.

Many of my dives with these sharks involved me being placed in isolated and vulnerable situations but there was always a safety blanket, a diver watching my back, an aluminium pole to fend off those that came a little too close (and that did happen much more than once) and it was always a case of stacking the odds in my favour, yes, the risk was there but aside from a catastrophic stroke of bad judgement, bad luck or just one bad tempered shark, we knew we were well placed to deal with any situation.

One big thing to bear in mind as well - These sharks are conditioned, try this in a place where the Bulls aren't conditioned and you have a very different kind of video.

There are two dive operations on Shark Reef, I spent the month with Beqa Adventure Divers, the other operator there and and I am confident I am not speaking out of tun (Mike please correct me if I am) but I do not for one second think B.A.D would have facilitated a shoot involving a free-dive at thirty metres, amongst approximately 40-50 of the world's biggest Bull Sharks for the simple reason that one wrong move, one lapse of concentration, one bite and it's game over for Mark Healey and it's all been caught on camera. Oops, I guess that means Bull Sharks are dangerous after all, try explaining that one when the footage goes viral.

Chances are, we've all seen videos of people doing retarded things around sharks and this isn't on the same scale of idiocy as the Mermaid and White Shark or Great White Shark Song stunts it must be said. Also, someone like Mark Healey taking a risk like this can almost be forgiven, after all he is an expert waterman, the problem arises when Joe Diver thinks he or she can do it too, after all, "Bull Sharks aren't dangerous, the guy promoting that drink proved that, plus everyone on Facebook says sharks all just want a cuddle now and if one gets too close I just need to turn it upside down, go on mate, I'll give you some extra cash to let me do it too..."


I don't blame Monster for making this viral, nor do I blame Mark Healey, like I said, from what I've seen of him, I really like him, he seems pretty cool to me, they're just doing what they do to help them make a living. It's also not for me to start shouting the odds against the operator either, they obviously thought the risk was worth it, I might not agree but that's not really the point of this post.

Please can we stop trying to redefine what "sharks" are? I have never once that I can think of, seen or heard anyone with anything approaching expert or at least well informed knowledge of sharks trying to convince people that sharks are something they are not. I understand the motivation of those who do however, they mean well of course but telling people "Bull Sharks aren't dangerous" is no different to telling people "all sharks are evil killing machines," the simple fact is that neither statement is true and neither helps the conservation of these animals. I could film myself running into the middle of oncoming traffic and get away with it, does that make running in front of cars not dangerous because I got away with it the time I gave it a whirl?

We don't have to make people believe sharks want to be our friends, they don't, people who are of any use to any conservation initiative don't need to be lied to because, guess what, most people aren't complete numb skulls. It also does no justice to the awesomeness of an animal like the Bull Shark to dilute its innate personality and nature. It might all be very right on for people to claim they first became attached to sharks "because, you know, they're like, so important to the eco-system and they're like, so misunderstood and stuff," but to be honest, I don't believe a word of it, just tell the truth...

Sharks are cool, they are awesome badasses that scare most people half to death...

The other stuff comes afterwards, how many of us developed a fascination for sharks after JAWS? I know I did. My nephew loves sharks, he didn't even get it from me either, he formed his opinion all by himself, sharks and dinosaurs, why sharks and dinosaurs? Because they're frickin' cool that's why.

I enjoyed watching the video, it has sharks, a likable protagonist and a light pro-shark message but I don't think any concerted effort should be made to make it out to be something it's not. With shark conservation being a current cause celebre, it's not unusual for companies to want to get on the bandwagon but we also shouldn't make it so easy for them, attaching a brand to a conservation message because someone got away with something pretty risky isn't enough, pumping money into manageable conservation efforts like the provision of resources to help the stewardship of shark sanctuaries, now that's corporate involvement in shark conservation.

Anyway, as always, your opinions are welcomed and highly valued, you may even disagree with me, please feel free to do so in the comments section, nothing wrong with some intelligent discussion!

I would also like to see more of Mark in pro-shark media, god knows the scene needs a fresh injection of new blood, figuratively speaking though of course.

Have a top weekend!

My profiles: Vimeo Blogger


DaShark said...

No we don't do that.
It is not Shark Reef, either, it's lake Reef 1 mile away.
All very much doable - that is, til somebody makes a mistake.

This is straight from the moronic playbook of Ritter's Shark Skool - and we all know how that 1 has ended.

OfficetoOcean said...

Apologies on the geographical error, I'll correct that now...

Pretty much what I though you would say to be honest, it is a pretty intense risk to take for about 30 seconds of film!

Shark Diver said...

Nicely written sir, still I like my Yogurt analogy better. Worked all of 2 min on that one...can you tell?

OfficetoOcean said...

I actually left you a comment on your blog to say how much I liked the yoghurt analogy but it never appeared!

Oh and thank you!

The Saipan Blogger said...

That guy was on Saipan a few years ago hunting endangered species and selling them to local restaurants to help pay for his trip.

OfficetoOcean said...

Really? Maybe not quite the cool dude I thought!