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TELL US ABOUT YOU, YOUR UPBRINGING AND HOW YOU BECAME SUCH A DEVOTEE TO SHARK CONSERVATION.
OCEAN: I grew up in the water with a father that was an avid diver/dive instructor and a mom that loves nature and loves to swim. I was instantly fascinated from the moment I saw my first shark. Later, after learning that people were being brainwashed by media to believe they are mindless killers, I felt compelled to share my personal positive first-hand experiences and speak up for them. Over time I found myself repeating the same things, the science and reality about sharks and how they actually have more to fear from us than we do from them. Inadvertently I furthered my efforts for them into action, actively taking divers to see sharks for themselves. I studied marine biology and then focused on ethology, specifics on shark behavior for my masters. Then I opened a program based on the science to teach people about sharks and allow them the opportunity to meet sharks for themselves to experience the truth about how incredible they really are. Eventually when social media took off I was able to better able to share my perspective and personal expertise with a more global audience. I traveled around the world working with a diversity of shark species and other marine animals and my understanding, knowledge, and level of respect grew and continues to grow everyday.
JUAN: I grew up on the north shore of Oahu and was terrified of sharks from seeing them on TV and seeing them while surfing. It all changed once I went diving with them and from that first dive I totally fell in love and have been using my time and talents to do all I can to help save them.
OCEAN CAN YOU LIST ALL OF YOUR CERTIFICATIONS/QUALIFICATIONS? DON'T BE MODEST.
Thank you so much for asking! I am the lead conservationist, marine biologist, ethologist, head field researcher for One Ocean Research and Diving. My masters is in ethology focused on shark behavior and body language/social hierarchy and the way that sharks interact with each other, other species, and their environment. I am a PADI MSDT with over 20 specialties for over 10 years, and a competitive level freediver who has dove, taught, and conducted marine research and conservation projects around the world. I am an advisor on ISP and HSC project, the founder of the non-profit Water Inspired Conservation group, and co-founder of One Ocean Research and Diving in Hawaii and have designed safety programs around the world for dive programs working with marine animals. I am also a wilderness EMT, Instructor of 1st AID, CPR, Emergency 02, on site neurological, accident management, and hazardous marine life courses and has developed my own safety training and response courses specifically for shark programs. I work on films and productions as a water safety and daily in the shark research program in Hawaii and monthly on international programs that range from tagging great whites to recent projects like filming free diving with Orcas for climate change. My goal is to develop and further conservation efforts in all aspects for sharks and the ocean. Please feel free to check out my TED talk online, search “How sharks affect us all, by Ocean Ramsey.”G START - WHAT YEAR?
When was One Ocean Diving created?
One Ocean Diving has been a personal project for Ocean Ramsey and Juan Oliphant for a long time but I believe the vision came into focus in 2011-2012.
One of your main goals is to change the public’s perception of sharks as human-eating monsters. How did sharks get such a bad reputation?
Sharks got the undeserved reputation of mindless man-eating monsters largely from the fictitious exposure they got 40 years ago in the movie “Jaws” and continue to get today in movies like “The Shallows” and “Sharknado”. These movies are not based on fact and cater to only one small aspect of these amazingly complex and intelligent animals. People fear the unknown so I find sharing knowledge and providing access to immersive educational programs to be the greatest way to offset the many years of reiterated fictitious demonizing media.
In what ways are you attempting to change the way people think about sharks (ie. Water Inspired, One Ocean Diving, Pelagic Shark Program)? Why is this important?
My efforts to change the way people think about these animals range far and wide. When people book a pelagic shark dive with One Ocean Diving and Research they are not only getting the opportunity to gain first hand experience interacting with the sharks in their natural environment but we also give them a full educational and safety briefing on shark behavior, biology, physiology, and their important role in the environment and what to do, or not to do, to avoid an adverse interaction. On the way back into the harbor from the snorkel with the sharks myself or my team educate people on current research as well as the plight of sharks and what they can do to help to conserve these animals and the ocean. In addition to our Pelagic Shark Program, our non-profit group Water Inspired hosts conservation efforts like: reef and beach clean ups, school and public presentations, and conservation campaigns like awareness stickers and social media challenges incentivized with prizes and giveaways from the non profit product line whose online store sales support those projects. Water Inspired has an online store with @OneOceanDesigns with products like t-shirts, towels, reusable bags, yoga pants, bathing suits and more; all products are printed with beautiful images of sharks or other marine life that help raise awareness additionally with hashtags like #SaveSharks or #SaveTheOcean printed on them. All of the profits from these products go directly back into marine research and conservation efforts not just in Hawaii but global projects I work on like other research projects like tagging female sharks to identify pupping grounds. The public image that sharks have is extremely important because with almost every species population down 90-95% it is pertinent at this time to inspire others to help install policies for their protection. Sharks cannot keep up with the rate at which they are being decimated. Much of the misinformation that surrounds these animals is the result of public opinion rather than reality or scientific fact, and people generally wont fight to protect an animal that they believe is better off dead.
HOW'S YOUR AVERAGE DAY STRUCTURED?
My average day I am based in Hawaii. I am up at 5am. I help get a research vessel in the water and go out to three or more survey sites to collect information on sharks for a collaborative data set for 4 current on-going studies. On calm weather days up to six people join me at a time to learn about biology, physiology, general behavior, and specific body language of sharks. After learning about shark body language, participants learn about how their behavior plays into respectfully swimming with them in the safest manner. I am able to collect data while guiding persons in the water as a safety diver and naturalist/biologist. The experience is usually described by participants afterwards as one of the best experiences of their lives and they will never look at sharks the same. Most people post photos and videos of their experience with information they learned during the program about the plight, importance, and reality of sharks. Its a wonderful project being able to facilitate that fear to fascination. The Hawaii project I feel has reached so many people and made a huge lasting real impact in so many peoples lives, its a very feel good project that is growing respect for sharks at a very fast rate.
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, EVEN THE GREAT WHITE: DID YOU EVER EXPERIENCE FEAR OR LIVE THROUGH SOME DANGEROUS MOMENTS?
OCEAN: I have studied and interacted with sharks for many years so I like to replace fear with education. If you know and understand sharks first hand, you see they are not the “man-eating” feared animals that the media tells us. However, sharks are apex predators, so they do deserve a lot of respect. They are very powerful animals and are very capable. The amazing thing about sharks is that they display behaviors that you can read to let you know how they are feeling in a situation. If sharks want you out of their territory, they let you know with signs and behaviors before it escalates to a bite. Sharks go to a bite for the last resort. They are smart and don’t want to get injured themselves so they try to warn their peers by saying “I don’t want you here get out of my space” with they body language first. If you see a shark drop its pectoral fins, pop its gills, or open its mouth, it is a good idea to remove yourself from their area.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT ITS LIKE TO SWIM WITH A GREAT WHITE SHARK AND SHARE THIER WATER WITH THEM?
When you’re in the presence of a white shark you truly have a natural respect for them and their power and size. It really is unlike being around any other species of shark. You can see how cognitive they are when evaluating their surroundings and discovering the other living things around them. You can really recognize and feel their intelligence. Its also similar to meeting a person because with these sharks each individual one has a different temperament and demeanor than the other. Its almost hard to just put into words how genuine of an interaction it is.
What can divers and other people do to contribute to shark preservation?
Humans are very much interconnected to the ocean and we depend heavily on it for our survival. One of the most impactful things you can do for sharks is become a conscious consumer. Sharks are used in a variety of different products, like pet food and cosmetics. Shark meat is often sold under misleading names like “rock salmon,” “flake,” and generic “white fish.” Conservation of the marine environment as a whole is imperative to ensure a healthy planet. There is a number of ways people can get more involved: they can clean up marine debris, reduce their use of single use plastics, support conservation efforts, and even vote for environmental policies. People can sign petitions to make their voice count and educate others about the threats to our oceans and ways they can help. There is such a misunderstanding of sharks and I believe that photography and images can have a strong impact on changing peopleʻs perceptions, as well. Supporting pro-conservation organizations can go a long way with sending the right message in promoting shark preservation. Water Inspired is a nonprofit that focuses on shark conservation and utilizes the power of photography, science, immersive programs, art, technology, social media, events, and public presentations to reach a wider audience. Regarding our use of photography specifically with co founder @JuanSharks (Juan Oliphant) I believe a picture is a thousand words and can cross geographical and language barriers to reach a number of people, I think it is one of the most powerful ways to inspire conservation. We hope to inspire others through photos of people interacting with marine life, especially sharks in a positive way, to give sharks a deeper look, give them a chance, a chance to survive and coexist and because of that I post a lot of @JuanSharks images of me peacefully coexisting with sharks so people can realize its possible and they are not monsters and I hope that the images lead them read the captions or follow the links back to the websites so they can learn the truth about sharks: That they are so important and we need them and now they need our protection from the wasteful and cruel practice of killing sharks just for a bowl of soup for the demand for shark fin soup in China. By reaching out to the public through social media and providing a platform for immersive learning I hope to educate people and inspire how they can contribute to shark conservation.
SHARK CULLING IS SEEN BY MANY AS A NECESSARY EVIL PUT IN PLACE TO PROTECT BEACHGOERS AND SURFERS- WHAT WOULD BE AN EFFECTIVE ALTERNATIVE TO THIS PRACTICE?
This is a great question! There are actually many alternatives to preventing shark encounters rather than the inhumane killing of sharks. If there are shark sightings, we could easily close beaches and not permit people to enter the water. Sharks live in the ocean. They are going to be there. I find it a bit inconsiderate of humans to feel that they own the ocean so much, that they can actually kill sharks for only following their natural instincts as apex predators. We have learned over and over again with many studies that taking a link out of the chain of an ecosystem will affect all areas. Sharks have a vital role as apex predators and we need them to help regulate a lot of the animals below them. It would also be more beneficial to tag these animals to better study why they may be coming in to shore looking for food. We could discover if their primary food source is being over fished, if something is attracting them to a certain area, patterns in their migration, and so much more that could prevent encounters in a more healthy, sustainable, and scientific manner. There are also eco-barriers which are nylon netting that prevents large animals for coming in but is also recyclable. They can be expensive but are more cost efficient than the price of culling.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS OF SHARK CULLING, BOTH ON SHARK POPULATION AS WELL AS THE EARTH'S ECOSYSTEMS?
Sharks act as the white blood cells of the ocean. So, sort of like the doctors of the sea. In general they hunt the dead, dying, weak and injured fish. This leaves only the strong to survive. If you’ve ever had a fish tank, you know that when one fish has a disease it can spread very quickly to the rest of the tank. The sharks help regulate that on a much larger scale. Thats just one small example. Ultimately, if sharks are killed off, which is where they are headed at this rate, than the smaller marine life will over populate, including the marine life that feeds on phytoplankton. Phytoplankton consumes carbon dioxide and turns it into oxygen. 70% of our earths oxygen comes from the ocean. If the levels of phytoplankton decrease, it will affect our earths oxygen levels, which will affect humans.
HOW COME THE SHARKS ARE OKAY WITH YOU SWIMMING WITH THEM? WHY DONT THEY "ATTACK"?
Sharks are intelligent, curious, graceful and very misunderstood animals. Most people believe that sharks act like the movie “Jaws” and are man eating animals, however, this is not true. Sharks actually tend to be more scared of us than we are of them! Even though sharks are typically very afraid of us, they are still very powerful animals and deserve respect. There are many techniques that people can use to swim with sharks safely. One important rule is to always maintain eye contact with the shark. This is how we communicate with them. You should never turn your back on a shark and put yourself in a compromising position. It is also important to stay very calm, swim slowly and efficiently, and lower your heart rate as much as possible. This lets sharks know that you are an equal predator in the ocean and not an injured or panicked animal. There are many other guidelines that we explain to people when we bring them out on a tour. Sharks are so intelligent they actually will give you many "warning signs" with their behavior before escalating to a bite or another aggressive behavior. That is why it is important for people to study and understand sharks versus live out of fear.
SHARK CULLING IS SEEN BY MANY AS A NECESSARY EVIL PUT IN PLACE TO PROTECT BEACHGOERS AND SURFERS- WHAT WOULD BE AN EFFECTIVE ALTERNATIVE TO THIS PRACTICE?
Social media has played a huge role in my efforts to change perceptions. In an average day, my team can relay a strong message about the importance of sharks to an average of 36 people that join us in the water throughout the day on One Ocean Diving and Research Pelagic Shark Program. In contrast, through posts in social media, we can relay that same message to over over half a million people with just 3 posts. I’ve founded over 8 IG accounts and my personal account is now over 300K wonderful followers. @OneOceanDiving posts more often because its a team effort and is well over 100K and much more diverse in content.
What role has social media played in your efforts to rehabilitate sharks’ public image?
The existence of Shark Week could be a great tool for reaching millions with a scientific, factual, educational approach to understanding sharks and the marine environment. Unfortunately, Discovery still has that sensationalist aspect to their show and to keep viewers hooked, they still play into that “Jaws” fear, although from time to time they do feature some quality scientists, I hope it will improve because at the moment it seems they do more to vilify sharks and extremely little to help promote any conservation of the animals they are capitalizing off of.
IS IT TRUE THAT WE'VE HEARD THAT SHARKS CAN SENSE FEAR OR WOULD BE MORE LIKELY TO ATTACK A PANICKED SWIMMER?
Sharks are perfectly evolved predators. They have jelly-filled pored around their snout called Ampullae of Lorenzini that pick up electrical signals. Every living thing gives off electrical signals. When you are panicking by moving erratically, splashing, or waving your arms around, you give off the impression that you are an animal in distress. This piques a sharks curiosity and they will come in to investigate. They won’t attack if you just nervous, but when you give off physical displays of distress and fear, they will home in on that. When you are calm and maintain eye contact, you establish yourself as a fellow predator and they are much more likely to give you the space you want.
DO SURFERS HAVE A VALID REASON TO FEAR SHARKS IN THE LINEUP, OR IS IT AN EXAGGERATED FEAR?
Considering how many millions of surfers and swimmers enjoy the ocean everyday often dressed or acting like sharks natural prey items (surfers resembling seals or turtles, and swimmers splashing like injured marine animals) it is a testament to the sharks sensory systems that mistaken identity bites are so rare. More people now than ever have go pros and cameras and we have more shark tags now than ever that prove that sharks do regularly swim past surfers and swimmers and paddlers and they turn away able to identify they are not a natural prey item. There are areas and parts of the world that during certain seasons it would not be advisable to surf or swim there due to the sharks natural migration patterns or utilization of a territory for hunting, mating, or pupping. As shark science develops we are increasing our knowledge and advising the public how best to adapt their own behavior.
HOW CAN SURFERS LOWER THEIR RISKS OF A SHARK ENCOUNTER OR "ATTACK"?
Dont surf when there are shark sightings. Dont surf alone, surf in higher numbers. Dont surf in murky waters. Dont surf too far off shore. Dont sure where there are people fishing. Keep your feet up on your board. Keep moving. Sitting still and moving can appear as an animal that is injured or not paying attention. (easy target) Keep moving around even if its just slowly panning your board side to side you would appear to be an animal that is looking around verses sitting still you may appear to be a dead animal aka easy target
ADVICE TO ANYONE HOPING TO MAKE HIS OR HER PASSION FOR THE OUTDOORS INTO A CAREER OR PROFESSION?
Believe anything can happen. Believe one person can change the world. Believe in your cause. Find what you love and work hard to protect it. The rest will follow suit.
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