By Mark McConville
STUNNING images and video have revealed the shark whisperer who redirects huge tiger sharks with just his hands.
The incredible images show the fearless diver swimming underwater with the large predators in competition for food.
Other striking shots show the sharks challenging with their enormous mouth wide open to show their dominance before he controls or redirects them with his hand.
The remarkable photographs were taken by photographer Cam Grant and other friend of MooreaMoana Tours owner Pierrick Seybald (34), from Moorea, French Polynesia, in the water off Tuamotu Island with tiger sharks.
“I’m a shark safety diver and I do shark feeding in specific areas to attract sharks and provide a great experience for my guests,” said Pierrick.
“We have a place in Tuamotu Island where we study the behaviour of the tiger shark population. This place is maybe one of the best in the world to observe tiger sharks.
“Sometimes you can have more than 10 tiger sharks in the water in competition for food and they often come to challenge you. No beginners or guests can go there, just very experienced shark divers.
“When these big female tiger sharks come to challenge me with their mouth open I have to be ready to control or redirect them.
“They don’t really want to attack me and just want to show me their dominance. If a shark really wanted to attack me, trust me I would not be here today. Sharks are very smart and they know we are not at all in their food chain.
“I often calm them by stimulating the ampullae of Lorenzini with my hand. We call that the tonic immobility and we use that method to remove hooks that sharks got from fisherman.”
The ampullae of Lorenzini are special sensing organs called electroreceptors, forming a network of jelly-filled pores. These sensory organs help fish to sense electric fields in the water. Each ampulla consists of a jelly-filled canal opening to the surface by a pore in the skin and ending blindly in a cluster of small pockets full of special jelly.
Tonic immobility is a natural state of paralysis that animals enter, often called animal hypnosis. Its function is not certain. It may be related to mating in certain animals like sharks. It may also be a way of avoiding or deterring predators.
“I just love sharks and feel good with them,” added Pierrick.
“People have to understand the importance of sharks for our ocean and change the bad perception that they can have.
“We have to replace shark fishing with ecotourism activity that brings more money and preserves sharks.
“With my ecotourism business MooreaMoanaTours I show my guests how amazing it is to observe sharks and swim with them. After that their fear often disappears and their idea of sharks totally changes.
“With our foundation Ma o Mana Foundation we help research, we educate kids and fisherman about the importance of shark for the marine ecosystem.
“I want people to love sharks, protect sharks, swim with them but also show them that a shark stays a shark.
“Some situations in shark feeding can be complicated and people have to go with professionals to avoid accidents. Accidents always reinforce the bad reputation that sharks have and increase the numbers being killed.”