Sitting in the small cockpit of a "research vessel," three miles off Oahu's North Shore, a voice shouts "shark in the water!" Our host, Ocean Ramsey, calmly exclaims – "Perfect" – as naturally as, say, brushing her long blonde hair. I can't say I feel the same; but that will change in the next 20 minutes.
Before I know it, she's in the water swimming through layers of sharks. She nods to those of us still on the boat; it's time to get in. All is "safe" she says; yet I can't get a line from her speech earlier out of my head. "Sharks are opportunistic feeders. So try not to make any sudden gestures with your arms or legs, try and keep them close to your body." Hmmm.
Within second (everyone must be thinking "Am I really doing this?" or "What would mom think of this right now?") everything was silent, and I was floating atop a menagerie of circling, graceful sharks. My entrance into their realm was unspectacular – for them at least. They continued to circle at different levels; one was about seven feet below me, another was swimming in concentric circles eight feet below the first, overlapping each other's paths as if they were drawing the Olympic logo over and over.
Ramsey surfaced and said "Try and dive down a bit, really get among them." I did, and things got even quieter than they did on the surface, more tranquil and serene.
From all directions, sharks would appear circling again and again. There were no snappy movements. Below me, Ocean swam down with a GoPro camera on a stick, documenting the reality that I was quite literally "in the zone" of a dozen sharks. It felt...totally natural.
Ocean Ramsey is known throughout the world (thanks YouTube!) for being that "pretty blonde that swam with the massive Great White." Today, she leads free swims with sharks off Oahu – the ocean's apex predators – all in the name of science.
An experienced biologist and photographer, Ramsey is technically here to count and log the number of sharks living near the various fishing buoys off the North Shore. This venture (waterinspired.com) is meant to raise funds for their research and conservation efforts.
"If we can show people – be it in stunning underwater images, or on our boat during our daily excursions – how gentle these animals are, we can initiate a change in the perception of sharks," Ramsey tells me.
Ramsey made waves (pun intended) last year when, during a routine shark tagging dive in the Galapagos, she ran into a massive Great White shark. With her partner’s cameras rolling, she did what any surfer gal raised in the waters would do; she grabbed its dorsal fin and went for a ride with the behemoth.
A few million YouTube views later, she’s traveled around the globe (New Zealand, Philippines, Mexico, Big Island) to count, tag and observe sharks in their natural habitats, and started a company intended to break the stereotypes that sharks are hunting machines just looking for their next surfer or snorkeler to chomp.
If you’re keen on suiting up and swimming in the deep (shark sightings aren’t guaranteed) with Ramsey and her outfit, you can learn more at WaterInspired.com.
During the excursion, Ramsey enters the water first to establish a "safe zone" around the boat. She'll dive below the surface and capture data (and sometimes photos/video of you swimming), all the while keeping a keen eye on shark behavior, insuring as best she can a safe day on the water.