Friendship
Wild shark sees human best friend after being separated for year
Jim was worried that Emma the shark had forgotten him.
Elijah Chan
10.06.21

Off the coast of the Bahamas, two unlikely friends reunite after a year of being apart.

Jim Abernethy is an accomplished underwater photographer, filmmaker, author, and conservationist. He is well known for his shark encounters without cages. His business, together with his passion for marine life conservation, wants to push back against the shark’s unwarranted notoriety.

Since its release in 1975, the movie Jaws has painted a picture of sharks as mindless predators who will chomp their way into any meat they could find. It’s far from the reality, though, as humans are not even part of its diverse menu.

If Abernethy feared sharks as much as the next person does, he wouldn’t find himself in a fascinating encounter that resulted in an unlikely friendship that goes beyond species.

He first met Emma, a 14-foot long tiger shark, in late 2001. He shared with The Dodo that they first met at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. She has been coming around since then and has always relied on Abernethy to tell the story of her species as they fight for their right to live.


YouTube Screenshot - The Dodo
Source:
YouTube Screenshot - The Dodo

Back then, sharks being affectionate was a foreign concept, especially in how Hollywood portrayed these sentient creatures.

On the contrary, one of the greatest threats to sharks is humans.

In 2013, a study estimated that we are killing off over 100 million sharks each year. The main culprit for this aggressive population decline is to feed the demand for shark’s fin soup, which is a delicacy in parts of Asia. The trade is so lucrative that a bowl of soup could fetch up to $100.


YouTube Screenshot - The Dodo
Source:
YouTube Screenshot - The Dodo

It was with these violent human encounters that Abernethy and Emma became friends.

She was only one of many sharks that Abernethy helped unhook. One such shark, Captain Ron, swam towards Abernethy. They noticed something sticking out on his upper jaw and realized it was a fishing hook.


YouTube Screenshot - The Dodo
Source:
YouTube Screenshot - The Dodo

Instead of doing anything drastic, or feeding the shark to distract it, Abernethy showed the shark some affection. They grazed their hands over its head and body until it became comfortable enough to trust them. It was then that Abernethy had a breakthrough discovery.

“These (sharks) are, without question, sentient creatures who thrive on affection, which they’ve never had before,” Abernethy said to The Dodo.

The pair last bonded in 2020, not knowing that the world would grind to a halt.

It was only recently that Abernethy had the chance to return to Tiger Beach and hang out with his shark friends. On their return, however, Emma was nowhere to be found.

Thinking that she’s just away, Abernethy climbed back to his ship to take a break. That’s when he heard someone scream out that Emma was there to meet them.


YouTube Screenshot - The Dodo
Source:
YouTube Screenshot - The Dodo

According to Nick van Sicklen, one of their companions, sharks can tell boats apart. So when she knew it was the Shearwater hovering above her, she was a bit confused on why her friend Jim is not in the water.


YouTube Screenshot - The Dodo
Source:
YouTube Screenshot - The Dodo

But with the bubble dissipating after a deep dive, Emma saw a familiar presence and quickly swam towards him.

Abernethy was so glad that after all these years, Emma still remembers him. They may have spent a good amount of time away from each other, but he felt that they never grew apart.

“I don’t know that there are really words to describe what it is like to have a friendship with a wild animal like this,” Abernethy said to The Dodo, “But it’s extreme joy, heartwarming, almost tearful.”

Abernethy hopes that with this friendship, he could stop humans from killing and being afraid of creatures that value affection just like we do.

Watch this heartwarming reunion between unlikely friends.

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By Elijah Chan
hi@sbly.com
Elijah Chan is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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