Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

February 24, 2009

Mike Rutzen – mentalist.
This is a bloke who swims with great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias). He did freely admit that he never saw Jaws when he was a kid, which is a good reason that he didn’t have a prejudiced view of Roy Scheider’s mortal enemy.

Making himself small to attract a shark in towards him

Making himself small to attract a shark in towards him

He was brought up on a farm inland in South Africa, and only started diving when he was 20. He then skippered a charter boat that took tourists out to dive in cages and watch great whites feed.
He then decided that he had learned as much as he could from the safety of the boat, and started diving in the water without a cage.

A 'hypnotized' Great White

A 'hypnotized' Great White

And he’s made some fantastic discoveries. Like the body language and positions that sharks use to communicate. And he has the ability (see above) to stroke the sharks under their ‘chins’ and hypnotize them. And then they start to behave bizarrely, with their bodies going rigid and them appearing vertically in the water with their noses downwards.

I saw him featured on a BBC Natural World programme, which followed him as he dived with great whites. Then he progressed to diving with them whilst they fed on a dead Southern Right Whale. He was a bit worried because as soon as he entered the water he would be covered in the blubber from the whale shark and may be mistaken for food by the great whites. Not only were they easily able to tell that he wasn’t dinner, they behaved in a very controlled and regimented way. There was no feeding frenzy that common perception would expect. They ate in a strict hierarchical order.
And then he went swimming with them as they hunted seals in the Atlantic Ocean off the tip of South Africa.

Seal hunting - shark style

Seal hunting - shark style

Watching seals and sharks do battle is an amazing sight. They have a symbiotic relationship, where the sharks keep the seals fit by eating any that are weak or old, and the seals keep the sharks fed.

Mike Rutzen's unusual underwater transport

Mike Rutzen's unusual underwater transport

It’s truly awesome to watch. If you live in the UK try this link to watch it on the BBC iPlayer here, and see for yourself that swimming with sharks is not only possible it can be a thing of real beauty.

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