It all started with a magnificent, charismatic female tiger shark...
She had been calmly circling, observing me and slowly closing the distance with each pass. Eventually she was right next to me and slowed down so much, I was able to reach out and put my arm over her back. The feeling of her skin and muscles is forever imprinted in my hands memory. I looked at her eye, moving and investigating me. I don't remember feeling a need to breathe. She made another turn and looked straight at me. I just had this overpowering feeling that she was calling me out. I thought only one clear thought - "Do something".
That was the day that changed my life's path. I left the water and knew that my time of carefree play was over. I had been given a lot of amazing, privileged moments in the ocean and now it was time to evolve. Time to do more than have fun and look for adventure. To convey messages, to put my experiences to good use, and to do whatever I can to help sharks and the ocean. I didn't know how I would accomplish that. But my focus had shifted and there was no turning back.
At the time I was the owner of Hawaii Shark Encounters, a tour company on the Northshore of Oahu. I changed my approach. With the day to day operation we began to put less emphasis on the thrill and more emphasis on education of our guests. The crew agreed that we could be better messengers if we developed our knowledge. We collaborated with research groups, created shark manuals for the company and started the non-profit Shark Allies.
A few years later I became involved with the campaign for the first shark fin trade ban, which was authored by Senator Clayton Hee. And again, my world shifted drastically. Suddenly I was working in politics! I was definitely outside my comfort zone. But I recognized that it was the place to make a difference. So I told myself to step up to the plate. That law turned into many other laws around the US and the Pacific, and I have stayed on that bandwagon ever since. I teamed up with my friend Phil Waller to make a documentary called Extinction Soup and was able to show it to audiences around the world.
So many life changing adventures. All sparked into being by my female tiger shark friend...
I never feel it's enough, though. I don't want to be complacent and dwell on past successes. Usually, after a short period, I tell myself "that was great, now what?". I had great experiences working with conservation foundations. Shark Allies is a great little charity. But there are many things that can't be done in the non-profit world.
I have been wondering what might be missing: The shark world is split into two extremes. On one side we have conservation groups and research, and on the other we have Shark Week and other shark media. I believe there is a lot of space in the middle that we have been ignoring. A place that brings sharks to the public in a way that is neither sensationalistic, nor academic. Approachable, inclusive, collaborative. It only seemed right to honor my fearless tigress shark mentor by naming this new endeavor after her.
Once again, I find myself unsure about what I am getting myself into. But I step into the void, knowing I will have to figure it out along the way.
I hope you will come along with me and help me create something new, exciting and productive.
Founder, Tigress Shark LLC