Two shark researchers who came face-to-face with one of the largest great whites ever recorded have called for legislation to protect sharks in Hawaii.
Ocean Ramsey, a researcher and conservationist, said that she encountered the 20-foot shark near a dead sperm whale off Oahu.
The event was documented and shared by her fiance and business partner Juan Oliphant on social media.
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources said it was aware of photos of the great white and that tiger sharks have also been feeding on the whale.
Mr Oliphant, who photographed the shark, said it is unclear if it was the famed Deep Blue, believed to be the largest great white ever recorded.
Ms Ramsey and Mr Oliphant want to make sure that people realise that shark bites are uncommon.
“The idea that they see people as a food source, that is rubbish and that needs to go away because really that is ultimately leading to the demise of these animals,” Mr Oliphant said.
Ms Ramsey said she has been pushing for a bill that would ban the killing of sharks and rays in Hawaii for several years, and hopes this year the measure will actually become law.
Ms Ramsey, who operates Oahu-based One Ocean Diving and Research with Mr Oliphant, said the images of her swimming next to a huge great white shark prove the predators should be protected, not feared.
Still, the seasoned shark diver does not think the general public should recklessly get into the water with the giants, especially around a food source like a rotting whale carcass.
She said extensive training and time spent studying shark behaviour has kept her team and customers safe. She teaches people about how to act and, more importantly, not act when they encounter a shark in the water.
She and her team observe behaviour, identify and tag sharks and share that data with researchers as well as state and federal officials. She said she previously swam with the huge shark on research trips to Guadalupe Island, Mexico.
She also leads cage-free shark diving tours.
Unlike many marine mammals, sharks are not a federally protected species, though there are laws against the sale of their fins.
“So there’s not a lot of sympathy for sharks because of the way they’re portrayed in media and they don’t have the cute cuddly appearance,” Ms Ramsey said. “You can’t hate them for being predators. We need them for healthy marine ecosystems.”
State senator Mike Gabbard sponsored the shark protection legislation last session and plans to reintroduce it this year. The bill died in the House when it was not heard by the House Judiciary Committee.
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources said that the decomposing whale carcass had drifted to about eight miles south of Pearl Harbour after being towed 15 miles offshore days earlier.