By Dil Dissanayake
They say dogs are a man’s best friend, but Jim Abernethy prefers to spend his time petting SHARKS.
Shark expert Jim, from Florida, USA, has been swimming with sharks since his childhood and now can actually pet them like a dog – calling them ‘gentle giants’.
Jim, 61, runs eco-tourism shark trips, for over 40 years, where tourists have the chance to swim with the massive predators and get to know them.
And they can meet the sharks that Jim refers to by name and will come over for a friendly scratch from their favourite human.
He said: “I started diving at a very early age, when I was just nine, and through my teens I witnessed many large populations of three different species of sharks, completely disappear.
“I didn’t know anyone that knew sharks as I did and I assumed that was my calling in the planet, to save sharks worldwide.
“In the 40 years I am running eco-tourism shark dives, I’ve never seen a single person come out and say ‘Oh my God, that was so scary’- they usually say just the opposite, ‘ that was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.’
“I grew up with sharks so I know their true nature- sharks have absolutely no interest in biting or consuming any human, we are not on their food chain.
“They are supposed to be the most dangerous of all predators but they are really gentle giants. “
Jim says he came up with the idea of taming sharks in 2000, when he came across a shark missing an eye and tried to get close to it so he could save it.
He added: “I saw a shark missing his left eye and I felt sorry for it and I fed him to keep him alive- I believed the missing eye was probably caused by fishing.
“In 2002 the shark swam back in except it had this huge hook through its top jaw- I felt terrible because I swim with sharks every day.
“I came with this crazy idea to give the shark attention, as I would do with a dog and gained its trust in order to be able to go close, see the hook and figure out how to get it out.
“And that’s exactly what I did, within the next few hours I made friends with the shark to the point that it was coming in very slowly in order to get more affection- in other words I discovered sharks are sensitive creatures like dogs and cats and thrive on something they never had before, affection.
“Discovering this was a gamechanger for me because half the sharks I’d see every day would have hooks- so I started trying to be friends with them and eventually I’ve removed over 100 hooks from sharks using affection, without an injury to myself.”