If some people are destined for a specific career, then Ocean Ramsey—yes, that’s her real name—was meant to become a preeminent shark and marine researcher and conservationist.
From her home base on Oahu, Ramsey has travelled the world to study sharks in their diverse habitats and bring awareness to the threat that numerous shark species currently face. She’s also an advanced free diver (a diver without a breathing apparatus), scuba instructor, business owner, and designer. When she’s not travelling the world free diving, she’s at home in Hawaii working at her own company, One Ocean Research and Diving.
Her cause went viral when she was caught on tape riding the back of a fully grown great white shark with no cage or other protection. There’s also the fact that she’s attractive enough to be a model and does much of her work in barely there bikinis. Maxim spoke to the 30-year-old about her conservation work, her time in the Bahamas, and what it’s like to ride a great white.
How did you get into shark conservation?
My parents love the ocean, and I imagine part of the reason I love that environment must come from growing up the way I did. I have a degree in marine biology, specialised in ethology (animal behaviour), and studied specifics on shark body language, how they establish their social hierarchy and avoid confrontations. But, I realised that if I only focused on studying sharks and publishing papers, then another 600 million sharks would die while I conducted my six-year study. That realisation was the point when everything clicked. I knew I needed to take the science, conservation, diving, and all aspects to a new level with a new approach, so I co-founded the company, One Ocean Research and Diving.
What does your organisation do?
My company has a team of mostly female marine biologists who take people out daily to dive with sharks and learn about their biology, physiology, behaviour, body language, and how we humans can adapt our own behaviour based on our scientific understanding of sharks and their role in the ocean ecosystems. This is all to aid us in creating safer, and more fun, interactions.
Are sharks really in such peril?
Currently, shark populations have been decimated, with most shark species seeing 90 per cent declines, and many species are being pushed to the brink of extinction. The beautiful (and toothless) whale shark, the largest fish and shark in the ocean, was just moved to endangered-species status a few months ago, joining the hammerhead on the growing list of shark species that are quickly being wiped out due to many wasteful practices. Shark finning and regular shark sportfishing are the two biggest causes of these declines.
You gained a lot of attention when a video surfaced of you riding an enormous great white named Bella. What was that like, and how did it happen?
Honestly, I worry that beautifying the experience may entice others to try for a similar experience, which would be a bad idea. But truthfully, some of the absolute best moments of my life have been free diving with white sharks. There is nothing like it, and there are no words that can do it justice.
I’ve been studying and working with more than 30 species of sharks around the world for over a decade, and that GoPro footage of Bella and me was not at all my first time diving with white sharks. I spent years going in and out of cages and absorbing as much time and qualitative information as I could watching them interact with one another. Interacting with sharks is very humbling. I feel a tremendous honour being able to share their space and have them treat me as an equal or similar predator.
If you don’t mind me saying so, you are an extremely beautiful woman. Do people ever underestimate your expertise or professionalism because of how you look?
I hope that if any of my talents, features, or natural gifts can be used to better highlight the message I am trying to share…then I am grateful that I can be a voice, a spokesmodel, if you will, for them. It’s ironic that sometimes they title photos of me with sharks as “Beauty and the Beast,” when to me sharks and nature are absolutely gorgeous. I did a lot of modelling in my 20s and I am
still signed [with agents], but every time I get a call to do a project I’m either on our company’s boat or on an international conservation effort.
What makes the Bahamas so unmatched for a shark scientist–marine biologist?
The Bahamas is a special place because it is protected from shark fishing. It’s a marine-protected area for sharks, meaning that sharks can thrive, existing in plentiful numbers. It’s a world-class destination for diving with and studying tiger sharks, greater hammerheads, nurse sharks, lemon sharks, and Caribbean reef sharks. The warmer, shallower waters mean that diving to observe and study shark behaviour is easy and practical for longer periods of time. I definitely recommend Staniel Cay, where they have cute nurse sharks and adorable swimming pigs, or venture to Tiger Beach to see enormous tiger sharks.
What else should we know about sharks, and how would you recommend we get involved?
I am grateful, I get to dive with them daily, and the more I study and learn, and the more time I spend with them, the more my understanding, appreciation, and respect grow. They really are one of the most amazing animals on the planet, and anyone who has ever been lucky enough to go diving with them knows how true that is. I highly encourage people to go out and take the plunge and go for a dive with sharks with a well-educated and experienced guide. Sharks are apex predators, not puppies; but, they are not monsters.
My organisation’s message is simple. Humans and sharks can co-exist, and we need sharks to exist because they affect us all. From the air we breathe to the majority of protein the human population consumes, we all rely on the ocean, and sharks are a vital component of a thriving, productive ocean and planet.