Seeing is Believing : An Affectionate Shark

For the first time, affectionate behaviour in a shark has been documented. Jim Abernethy, of Palm Beach in Florida, filmed his reunion with a tiger shark after a separation of two years.


Abernethy, owner and operator of Scuba Adventures in Florida, had gained the shark's trust through gentle touches, initially to remove five hooks from her mouth. Since 2003, he has been using this method to remove hooks from many different species of sharks, as described in this former article about him, here.

The sharks he helped responded by cooperating, and would return for more affection as is seen so clearly in his video with this tiger shark. Abernethy's achievement was only possible because of his dedication to getting to know these mysterious and very unusual animals, while spending so much of his time on location where he could see them almost daily. As the first dive operator to show that sharks are peaceful animals, Jim always treated them with respect and affection. He spends most of his time on his liveaboard ship, The Shear Water, diving with sharks at sites in the vicinity of the Bahamas, and is on land for only about 40 days a year.

Though divers have understood for decades that sharks are not the demons of the sea as promoted by the media, the long standing bias against them has lived on, and shark attack mania is alive and well, in spite of decades of accumulating evidence that sharks are far less aggressive than the predators we are familiar with on land. Though increasing numbers of researchers are finding that a variety of marine animals are sentient, fisheries science continues to affirm that this is not the case. The argument is summarized here. Abernethy had removed five hooks from Tarantino's mouth initially, so the shark's reaction also strongly supports the argument that she appreciated the relief from pain.

I never got photographic evidence of affectionate behaviour in my sharks, mostly because nearly all of my study took place before I got an underwater camera. (Its hard to believe now, in the age of digital photography, how much more difficult it was to get underwater photos before). That is why it means so much to me that this behaviour has now been recorded. Even people who are willing to consider that sharks might have negative emotions such as fear or rage, find it less believable that they could have positive emotions such as happiness or affection.

With traditional science denying feelings in these animals, it provides evidence that some updates are needed! Anyway, this is a first, and a wonderful intimate look at the natural gestures of a tiger shark. Enjoy!

(c) Ila France Porcher 

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