During the summer months of July and August, these gentle giants gather by the hundreds in the waters off Isla Mujeres to feed on copious volumes of tiny clear eggs from spawning tuna.
As our vessel arrived at the feeding area in the early morning hours, Richard raced to the bow of the boat, his eyes wide with disbelief at the sheer number and size of whale sharks plying the surface. Overcome with excitement and forgetting his mask and fins, Richard dived straight into the water and began swimming alongside a whale shark, a huge grin of joy stretching from cheek to cheek.
In that moment I saw Richard for who he was, a person so passionate about nature and so connected to its wonder and beauty, and person willing to hurl themselves into the deep-end without a safety net to protect nature. I knew then that I couldn’t think of a better partner in shark conservation.
Most people take some serious convincing to undo their irrational fear of sharks (especially the big ones with rows of razor shark teeth), beliefs programmed by decades of media hype that have portrayed sharks as mindless ‘man-eaters’. Richard redefines fearless – not in a reckless manner but rather in a way that demonstrates his innate understanding of the true nature the oceans most charismatic predators.
Joining Jim Abernethy and me in the Bahamas, without a moment’s hesitation Richard stepped off the boat deck and into a swarm of dozens of two-three meter lemon sharks and reef sharks. It didn’t take long for the star of the show to appear, a four-five meter tiger shark and she made a beeline for Richard. Completely at ease and eyes wide wonder, Richard waited motionless as she drew closer and closer, her chin, belly and tail gently brushing over his face as she past by. Richard’s eyes said it all in that moment – deep gratitude and immense respect.