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Photographer Aims to Change Perceptions of Sharks

A great white shark attacks a seal decoy off Cape Cod.
Courtesy of Brian Skerry
A great white shark attacks a seal decoy off Cape Cod.

For decades, public perceptions of sharks have been shaped by images of man-eating monsters, like Jaws. Award-winning underwater photographer Brian Skerry would like to change that. His new book, Shark, is a collection of vivid, up-close photographs with stories written by Skerry and his colleagues at National Geographic Magazine.

Skerry was only twenty years old the first time he encountered a shark face-to-face. After hours in a shark cage seeing nothing, a female blue shark emerged from the murky water.

“I remember being so enamored with her that I actually opened the shark cage door and swam out,” Skerry recalled. “I just wanted to get close.”

Skerry says the shark seemed to acknowledge him, but that he was far more interested in the shark than she was in him. After a moment, she swam away and disappeared.

“I was left sort of drifting in the ocean there, wondering if it had been a dream, or if it was indeed real,” he said. “A profound experience for me.”

Skerry has continued to photograph sharks for some three decades. In that time, his own relationship with sharks has changed. His fascination with their raw power and beauty has transformed into an appreciation of their individual personalities and a deep empathy for the challenges they face, including fishing and pollution. That is what he hopes to share with others through his photography.

“For a very long time - way before movies or even novels came out - sharks had been portrayed as villains, as demons. And that’s not accurate,” Skerry said. “They are far more complex creatures. They lead complex lives.”

Skerry says we need to understand sharks for what they truly are: neither house pets nor monsters, but rather, top predators with a critical role to play in their respective ecosystems.

And also, animals who have – in many cases – been brought to the brink of extinction by human activities.

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