Divers describe their close brush with a tiger shark as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Cassie Jensen, the photographer the shark approaches in the video, embraces shark diving as a hobby.
“I used to be really afraid of swimming because of sharks,” she says. “When I picked up diving, I was intimidated because of how the media portrays them, but the first time I saw a shark in the water, all I wanted to do was see them more!”
The group of divers in the West Palm Beach, Florida, area names and tracks the sharks they swim with in the interest of conservation and awareness. Jensen said she easily recognized the shark in the video.
“This is DJenny. She has a little freckle above her eye on the left side. It’s one of her identifying traits,” Jensen says. “Her name was originally Denny because they thought she was a male, but then they realized she was a female, and Denny became DJenny.”
This particular encounter made Jensen feel as though she had a connection with DJenny.
“It was an absolutely incredible experience. I have never had another like it,” she says. “I had the sense that she was going to come up to see me from the bottom. As I was thinking that, she turned vertical and came up straight from the darkness up to touch my camera.”
“We like to call them very curious,” Jensen says. “They love shiny things, and our tanks are shiny. They love electromagnetic things, and our cameras give off electromagnetic pulses.
“Much as a dog would go and sniff another dog, a shark will come in, watch us, smell us, feel for us with their electromagnetic sensors, and if there’s something shiny that looks like the belly of a fish, they will test it with their teeth.”
Still, Jensen says she has never seen violence or antagonism from a shark; in fact, the sharks are usually wary when they see human beings in their midst.
“We’re scary-looking to them. We’re big, and we have all these bubbles coming out of us.
They circle around the perimeter to look out for any danger. They want to make sure we’re not going to hurt them.”
Diving with bait is a common way to see tiger sharks in the Florida area, especially at Tiger Beach in the nearby Bahamas.
Jensen believes baiting sharks in order to draw them in and view them is good for conservation, a common view among divers.
“I would much rather put some bait in the water, have the sharks come in, and show people the sharks are really amazing, intelligent, beautifully evolved creatures,” she says.
However, baiting tiger sharks has been known to change their behavior and is opposed by some scientists, who fear that it could attract sharks to people or lead to other unwanted consequences. (Read about the shark baiting controversy.)
Senior marine fisheries scientist Gregory Skomal of the state of Massachusetts acknowledges that the divers handled the shark well. He also confirmed the species identification.
Tiger sharks are born very small, and their population is vulnerable because of it. Overfishing has also decimated the shark population worldwide; a hundred million sharks are killed every year for sport or for fin soup.
A bill in Congress, the “Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016,” if passed, would forbid diving with bait for recreational or conservation-related purposes in an attempt to maximize the effectiveness of baiting for fishing purposes. Jensen believes this would ultimately harm sharks by decreasing support from the dive community and the public.
Despite her familiarity with and admiration for sharks—and the fact she’s never experienced a violent incident—Jensen says it’s wise to be careful around them.
“You can’t trust them 100 percent, because at the end of the day, they are wild animals.”