Hannah Fraser (or “Hannah Mermaid”) tells us about diving with sharks
Tell us your background diving amongst marine life
I used to go to the library to research where I could find mermaids in real life. I created my first mermaid tail with the help of my mom when I was 9. I have now been performing as a mermaid for nearly a decade. Creating a career that fit into my passion rather than trying to fit into an existing career path hasn’t been easy, but it’s endlessly rewarding.
Swimming with whales, dolphins, and non-threatening ocean animals is such a personal joy for me. Swimming with more dangerous creatures like the great whites certainly required more courage!
Describe the experience of being underwater with sharks and other sea mammals.
People often ask me why on earth I would swim with dangerous creatures such as sharks. I find them to be intriguing, awe inspiring, magnificent and beautiful in their own way. I accept that they are one of the world’s most dangerous predators but I also have found that they are not mindless monsters just waiting for me to dip my tail in the ocean to suddenly attack me. They are wary, clever, and intelligent creatures. If you treat them with respect, know their behaviors, be very careful and occasionally show them who’s boss, then you can be lucky enough to swim with them and stay in one piece.
When you dive, you are entering an entirely alien environment. The home of an amazing array of wild, unusual, and sometimes dangerous creatures! The more you know about each species, their behaviors, and how to interact without scaring them, upsetting them or annoying them, the better your experience will be!
Swimming with manta rays is like meeting alien creatures. They’re the most gloriously graceful beings under the sea – so relaxed, smooth and so aquiline. Whales are mind-blowing, their size alone is awe inspiring, then realizing how intelligent, interactive, curious, and wise they seem is really life changing.
Sharks are beautiful and majestic for their powerful strength. They are wary predators, very alert to your every move, and have incredible eyesight and senses. They glide effortlessly through the water with such ease. Their personalities are much more unknowable. They seem distant and intense, yet amazing to be around.
Dolphins are pure joy, curious, cheeky, underwater dancers, always so bonded with their pods that they exude a feeling of camaraderie and quick-witted intelligence. Seals are like the exuberant puppies of the ocean – fun, playful and sometime bratty, nipping your toes (or fins) if you don’t move fast enough!
What made you want to want to risk your life to make this video?
I’m a passionate environmentalist, swimming all over the world, and speaking at events and conventions about my experiences. Ocean creatures are unique, magnificent, intelligent and imperative to our world’s ecosystem to keep everything balanced. Seeing these animals diminishing en masse around the planet (getting sick from pollution, being slaughtered by humans and fished into extinction) breaks my heart. I decided to create beautiful images of the connection possible between humans and ocean creatures to inspire people around the world to protect and love them. I also started to see the degradation of beautiful locations that I visited due to pollution and rubbish, so I was inspired to bring it to the attention of the world to help inspire change.
Were there any close calls?
There was one moment where a shark came nose down towards me at head height. I put my hand on its nose and it jerked its head up and opened its mouth. It wasn’t trying to bite me, it was just reacting to the touch and exploring what was happening, however, my head happened to be directly in front of its teeth. I kept my cool, and directed it with a soft push to the side, then pulled my hands back to a safe position. It was more about me learning the shark’s behavior correctly and how to deal with it, than it was an actually threatening move by the shark.
What practical precautions did you and your team take to shoot this?
Well firstly I had a support team. Every time I got in the water I had to be painted from head to toe in an artistic dark blue/black patterning, that not only created a unique artistic impression but also minimized the sharks perception of me as a potential meal. Applying the paint was a challenge in itself, as the boat was constantly rocking violently from side to side in heavy swell, coupled with periodic squalls dumping torrential rainfall and heavy winds blowing the paint away while the artist struggled to to spray it onto my body.
I also wore underwater contact lenses that provided modest vision underwater without a face mask, however the lenses were a challenge to keep in my eyes under the extreme circumstances.
Lastly I was specially weighted to keep me anchored to the ocean floor, preventing me from floating up and risking pulmonary edema and unwanted attention from a large shark….the most dangerous place to be is at the surface as sharks can mistake a human for a turtle or other food that is splashing around above them.
Tiger sharks are widely known for being the ocean’s most aggressive and deadly creatures towards humans. Was there a certain frame of mind that gave you the confidence to attempt this and ultimately survive unscathed?
To start, I think many years of training to remain cool and collected underwater helped enormously. Other things include meditation, strong focus, not giving into fear, and responding from a place of strength and confidence. I have practiced yoga and deep breathing my whole life which is invaluable in breath holding, and I also dance a lot to create a flexible spine and keep up my cardio fitness, and I eat a healthy vegetarian diet as well. A lot of being comfortable underwater has to do with your fear levels, and your ability to surrender to being in a different environment. I find it mediative and calming, which slows down the heart rate and therefore requires less oxygen to the brain. If you can get into a semi trance-like state and breathe slowly and deeply before entering the water your skills will increase a lot.
Watch this amazing video of Hannah.
Featured Photo by Shawn Heinrichs