Like many of us, Joe Romeiro was afraid of sharks after watching Jaws. But that fear turned into curiosity when he and his grandfather caught a shark on one of their many childhood fishing trips. That was a good thing for his chosen profession: filming sharks. He had a part in several shows on this year’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, including “Shark-Croc Showdown” and “Shark Vortex.” Shooting footage of sharks for more than a decade has allowed Romeiro respect instead of fear the animal.
Shark populations are declining, and many experts believe ignorance caused by fear fuels unawareness of this problem. “What it really comes down to is that this animal needs to be protected, needs to be looked at and needs to be understood at little bit better,” Romeiro says. Here are four interactions he has had with sharks that have proven them to be gentle giants, rather than loathsome predators.
1. The Rhode Island Rescue
About six years ago, Romeiro was filming blue sharks in Rhode Island when one shark—it’s body ridden with leaders, hooks and lines—stopped swimming near him. After a while, Romeiro swam to the shark and removed a leader. Then the shark swam by him again, and Romeiro took out a hook. Although there were eight other people in the water, the shark kept coming to Romeiro until it hovered in front of him.
“I actually felt like this animal knew that I was trying to help it and was allowing me to,” he says.
Typically, Romeiro says, he’s skeptical when he hears these kinds of stories. But sharks have natural cleaning stations underwater where they get parasites and such removed, and he thinks the shark thought he was one of those stations. He says it was a “magical experience.”
2. The Tiger’s Tail
Tiger sharks, which can weigh roughly a thousand pounds and grow to around 12 feet, roam underwater at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. Because of their size and habit of scavenging for their food, they have earned a reputation for eating anything. That’s why Romeiro was surprised to see the sharks carefully swimming to avoid hitting him with their tails during one of his first dives in that area.
One tail hit could have knocked him unconscious underwater, he says, because of the sharks’ size. But the sharks turned out to be “some of the most polite creatures in the ocean.”
“It’s one of those feelings of respect,” Romeiro says. “You’re always kind of wondering like what is this animal going to do next? When is the unpredictable moment coming? And really the way they react to things is really non-aggressive.”
3. Emma, the Friendly Tiger Shark
Romeiro first met Emma the tiger shark ten years ago. The water was murky that day, making it difficult to see. But that didn’t stop Emma from charging through the water, going right up to Romeiro and staring at him.
“It was only maybe about five minutes, but to me it was like the entire dive,” he says. “You know, this huge massive tiger shark just swimming around you and checking out what you are. It’s amazing. It’s exhilarating.”
4. Sharing a Meal with a Great White
Romeiro was with a group of people off the coast of Guadeloupe Island filming sharks, when a piece of bait fell off the boat. Cal Ripfin — a great white shark with a “jaggy dorsal fin” known for its unflinching wonderment around humans — swam quickly to get it. The videographers followed, trying to get footage of Cal eating the bait. But he just let them have it. “A great white shark was like, ‘Nope, you got it,’ and left,” Romeiro says. “[He] just turned away.”