A photo of two divers posing with what is believed to be the largest great white shark in existence is going viral across social media. The two shark researchers and conservationists, Ocean Ramsey and Juan Oliphant, came face-to-face with the 20ft-long (6 meter) great white, named Deep Blue, near a dead sperm whale off Oahu's north shore in Hawaii and are looking to use the opportunity to push for legislation that would protect the marine creatures in the state.
While there are laws against the sale of their fins in many states, great white sharks are not one of the animals on the federally protected list despite the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listing them as a vulnerable species.
According to the Guardian, Ramsey operates the Oahu-based One Ocean Diving and Research facility with Oliphant, who is her fiance, and that she has been advocating for a bill that will ban the killing of sharks and rays in Hawaii for the past several years.
After the almost-surreal photo of her swimming next to the great white went viral, Ramsey said she hoped the public would realize that the animals are to be protected and not feared. "There's not a lot of sympathy for sharks because of the way they're portrayed in media and they don't have a cuddly appearance," she said. "You can't hate them for being predators. We need them for healthy marine ecosystems."
However, she warned those who would be inspired by the photo to try swimming with the great whites themselves, especially around a food source such as a rotting whale carcass. She said she had had extensive training and spent countless hours studying the animals' behaviors and that she taught people how to act and how not to act when they encounter one in the waters.
That sentiment was echoed by state wildlife officials, with Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement Chief Jason Redulla saying in a statement, "Understandably, some people want to get into the water either out of fascination or to get photographs, but it is truly dangerous to be around this carcass with so much shark activity."
"We're asking people to stay out of the water around this carcass," he continued. "We don't want anyone to get hurt if a shark swimming around the carcass mistakes them as food."
And though films such as Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws' portray the great white shark as a "ferocious man eater" — and the great white is responsible for the largest number of reported and identified fatal unprovoked shark attacks on humans — both Ramsey and Oliphant insist shark bites are uncommon. "The idea that they see people as a food source, that is rubbish and that needs to go away because really that’s ultimately leading to the demise of these animals," said Oliphant.
He also revealed he was unsure whether the giant great white was, in fact, Deep Blue. "She looks the part right now," he said. "Maybe even more exciting that there is another massive, you know, super-size great white shark out there. Because their populations are so dwindling."
Ramsey similarly expressed surprise at how the shark had managed to avoid hunters for long and grown to be that big. "I don’t know how old she is," she said. "But for her to survive through so many longline fisheries and, you know, gill nets and team nets and fishermen who might just kill her because they think that she is a monster ... it’s very special."