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The Inertia

About 20 years ago, Jim Abernethy made a friend. It wasn’t an easy friendship, at first, but friendships with tiger sharks never are. Yes, you read that correctly: Abernethy has been friends with a tiger shark for two decades.
“When Emma first swam by,” he said, “she was afraid. “Like all wild sharks, they’re inherently afraid of humans.”

Over the next few years, though, Abernethy kept diving, and Emma kept coming back to visit. Eventually, he says, the shark gained a sense of trust in him. And then she learned something about herself: she really likes head rubs. Not having hands, rubbing her own head was difficult, and Jim was happy to oblige. “She would come closer and closer,” he explains, “until finally, she was close enough that I could actually touch her head. Every time she comes close to me, I’d rub the top of her head.”

He had his own reason for rubbing her head, and it wasn’t just because she liked it. Jim wanted to be able to remove any fishing hooks that she would get. Over the years, he’s removed four from her. “Once she gained a sense of trust and she knew I would never hurt her,” he says, “she would follow me around everywhere I go.”

When Abernethy was first getting to know her, he was understandably a bit intimidated. Over the course of their relationship, though, things changed. Now, he says her personality is just like a labrador retriever’s. He goes on to explain that when sharks do attack people, he believes it’s just a mistake. “Under the conditions that I’m in; crystal clear water where they can see what they’re doing, it’s a case of mistaken identity.”

And while it may be tempting to try and befriend a tiger shark, it shouldn’t have to be said: don’t try this at home.


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