Ocean Ramsey is a diver who has found a spot in the community as a well known personality, actress, and spokesperson for the animals that live in the sea. We were lucky enough to get a moment of her time, and she answered a few questions for us.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How and when did you fall in love with the ocean?
I grew up in the water with a father that was an avid diver and dive instructor, and a mom that loves nature and loves to swim. I was instantly fascinated from the moment I saw my first shark. As I traveled around the world working with a diversity of shark species and other marine animals, my understanding, knowledge, and level of respect grew, and continue to grow, every day.
At a young age, after realizing consistently that people were being misled to believe they are mindless killers, I felt compelled to share my personal positive first-hand experiences and speak up for them. Over time, I found myself repeatedly discussing the same things, the science and reality about sharks and how they have more to fear from us than we do from them, along with stories my personal experiences.
Inadvertently, I furthered my efforts for them into action, actively taking divers to see sharks for themselves. I studied marine biology and then focused on ethology, specifically on shark behavior for my master’s degree. Then I opened a program based on the science to teach people about sharks and allow them the opportunity to meet sharks for themselves and experience the truth about how incredible they really are. Eventually, when social media took off, I was better able to share my perspective and personal expertise with a global audience.
One of your main goals is to change the public’s perception of sharks as human-eating monsters. How did sharks get such a bad reputation?
Sharks got the undeserved reputation of mindless man-eating monsters largely from the fictitious exposure they got 40 years ago in the movie Jaws and continue to get today in movies like The Shallows, Sharknado, and 47 meters below, etc. These movies are not based on facts and instead seek only to capitalize off selling fear, further misrepresenting sharks as monsters without regard to the science and reality of what we currently know and experience while diving with sharks. People fear the unknown so I find sharing knowledge and providing access to immersive educational programs to be the greatest way to offset the many years of reiterated, fictitious and demonizing portrayal.
In what ways are you attempting to change the way people think about sharks?
My efforts to change the way people think about these animals range far and wide. When people book a pelagic shark snorkel with One Ocean Diving and Research (OneOceanResearch.Org), they are not only getting the opportunity to gain first-hand experience interacting with the sharks in their natural environment, but we also give them a full educational and safety briefing on shark behavior, biology, physiology, and their important role in the environment and what to do, or not to do, to avoid adverse interaction. By providing an educational and immersive program to the public I am able to replace fear with empowering experience and factual science based knowledge that people can continue to share with others.
On the way back from the snorkel with the sharks, myself or one of my marine science team educate people on current research as well as the plight of sharks and what they can do to help to conserve these animals and the ocean. In addition to our Pelagic Shark Program, our non-profit group Water Inspired hosts conservation efforts like reef and beach clean ups, presentations, and conservation campaigns like awareness stickers and social media challenges incentivized with prizes and giveaways from the non-profit product line, whose online store sales support those projects. Water Inspired has an online store with @OneOceanDesigns with products like T-shirts, towels, reusable bags, yoga pants, bathing suits, and so on; all products are printed with beautiful images of sharks or other marine life that help raise awareness additionally with hashtags like #SaveSharks or #SaveTheOcean printed on them. The proceeds go directly back into marine research and conservation efforts, not just in Hawaii but also globally.
I work on other research projects like tagging female sharks to identify pupping grounds. The image that the public generally has of sharks is extremely important because it affects the way they vote and even how they interact with marine life and with almost every large species of sharks populations decimated by over 90%, it is absolutely pertinent to inspire others to help install policies for their protection right now. Sharks cannot keep up with the rate at which they are being killed off. Much of the misinformation that surrounds these animals is the result of public opinion rather than reality or scientific fact, and people generally won’t fight to protect an animal that they believe is better off dead.
What role has social media played in your efforts to rehabilitate the sharks’ public image?
Social media has played a huge role in my efforts to change perceptions. In an average day, my team can relay a strong message about the importance of sharks to an average of 36 people that join us in the water throughout the day on One Ocean Diving and Research Pelagic Shark Program. In contrast, through posts in social media, we can relay that same message to over half a million people with just three posts. I’ve founded over eight Instagram accounts, and my personal account has over 300,000 wonderful followers. @OneOceanDiving posts more often, because it’s a team effort, and boasts well over 100,000 followers and much more diverse content. But check out all of our social media accounts for unique, diverse, facinating, and very relevant factual information and ways to get involved: @OceanRamsey, @JuanSharks, @OneOceanDiving, @OneOceanResearch, @WaterInspired, @OneOceanConservation, @OneOceanEducation, @OneOceanGlobal, @OneOceanInspired, @OneOceanSharks, @OneOceanDesign.s
Join the movement and tag, post, and repost and integrate hashtags like #HelpSaveSahrks, #SaveTheOcean and help us take over the negative hashtags to change the messages back to positive use NO OR STOP and then the hostages #SharkFishing and #SharkFinning and #SharkFinSoup.
Some people argue that touching marine life is never okay. What would you say to counter this criticism? When is it okay to do so?
Touching marine life is a rare occurrence that should only be done under specific circumstances with the utmost respect for the animals. I do not advise people to touch wild animals, I teach people to respect their space and if approached how to gently respond to maintain a peaceful, respectful coexistence. When our safety divers use touch it is only done when absolutely necessary and it is a mutual interaction between the shark and the person. A person who is not experienced in shark behavior should never, ever try to touch or chase one of them. A good general rule of thumb is to always give wildlife more space than less, especially if you want them to do the same.
Although diving with sharks may not be as dangerous as many people believe, something can still go wrong at any moment. What precautions do you take before and during a shark dive to prepare? How do you ensure that you stay safe?
Considering how many millions of surfers and swimmers enjoy the ocean every day, often dressed or acting like sharks’ natural prey (surfers resemble seals or turtles, and swimmers splash like injured marine animals), it is a testament to the shark’s sensory systems that mistaken identity bites are so rare. There are areas and parts of the world that during certain seasons it would not be advisable to surf or swim there due to the sharks’ natural migration patterns or utilization of a territory for hunting, mating, or pupping.
As my scientific knowledge and experience continue to develop, I work daily advising the public how best to adapt their own behavior to avoid adverse interactions. I avoid adverse interactions by paying attention to small details, specifically the sharks’ body language and changing social dynamic as well as their proximity to any given point of interest, and by constantly identifying the more dominant individuals and adjusting my body and positioning accordingly. There is a lot going on, and there are better and worse ways to respond to territorial body language. This is the focus of my studies and I have helped people avoid adverse interactions. If you want to learn more about what to do and not to do and specifics on shark body language please join us on the boat or in the water for our education, immersive, science program open to the public at OneOceanResearch.Org
In addition to diving with sharks and taking photographs, you conduct scientific research on sharks. What are some fascinating discoveries or observations that you have made that you would like to share with the broader public?
If you know and understand sharks first-hand, you see they are not the ‘man-eating’ animals that the media tells us about. However, sharks are apex predators, so they do deserve a lot of respect. The amazing thing about sharks is that they display behaviors that you can read to let you know how they are feeling in a situation. If sharks want you out of their territory, they generally try to let you know with signs and behavior before it escalates to a bite. A bite is usually the last resort after trying to communicate through exaggerated body movements that we call agonistic territorial behavior.
The problem is that most people don't know how to read shark body language and so I am trying to decode the patterns and translate the language and teach people how to ‘read shark body language’ so they can avoid adverse interactions. Sharks are intelligent and fear injury themselves, so they try to warn adversaries with intimidating threat displays. This means that sharks are generally very easily intimidated.
How has your data set been utilized?
The extensive data set I developed for my original research is still used daily as the primary data set for One Ocean Diving, and research includes 62 different data variables. So not only do we record specific behavior, but my team of marine biologists gathers data every hour in natural aggregation sites on population, movements, environmental conditions, the presence of other species, and reactions and behavior observed in the changing conditions. There are many fascinating discoveries I have made in regards to the way sharks communicate and how to avoid adverse interactions by utilizing this information, I try to share as much as possible daily through the OneOceanDiving ,and in articles that will be published in the near future, as well as through public and private presentations, Youtube videos, and advanced specialty safety training. The primary component of my long-term data set on population trends is the primary research sited in the push to gain more protection for sharks by banning the purposeful killing of sharks and rays in Hawaii, a bill we will continue to push to pass.
You have a part-time job as a stunt double and have performed stunts for a few TV shows and movies. How did this come about and what is more exhilarating: diving with sharks or performing stunts?
Believe it or not, diving with sharks is really peaceful, relaxing, and nothing like performing stunts at all to me. While working with apex predators in an open water environment comes with its fair share of challenges, mostly due to environmental conditions and controlling people, my time in the water with sharks is the most peaceful part of my day. Being in the water with sharks is like a meditation, it forces me to be fully present and aware not only of all of my surrounding and the beautiful commanding creatures but also of my own breathing and the way I move my body because they respond to the smallest change. I am never more fully awake than when I am in the water with sharks, it’s not like an awake and nervous feeling, it’s awake and truly alive and aware. Sharks are very commanding and have this unique and amazing presence that calms me and makes me feel whole. When I am with them, or working in the ocean with marine life I have an inner peace, joy, or recognition feeling like I am where I am supposed to be, all of my life experiences seem to have led me to what I do today, I feel strongly that marine conservation is my lifes purpose and what I was designed for.
How I got into stunt work: I was asked to double an actress for the movie Into the Blue 2: The Reef, and I did the free diving and SCUBA scenes very easily because that is what I do. After that first stunt several coordinators asked me to do more and more water work, and eventually everything from fight scenes to dirt bikes, falls, helicopters, stunt-car driving—pretty much everything except fire stunts. I find stunts easy, but diving with sharks is not a stunt, the feeling is almost as far from the adrenaline rush of a stunt that I could get. I was working with sharks long before I started working stunts in 2009. I am SAG and AFTRA originally from modeling, and I got my first speaking role as an actress only last year on Hawaii Five-0 playing a character based on myself and my work as a shark researcher/conservationist.
What can divers and other people do to contribute to shark preservation?
Humans are very much connected with the ocean and we depend heavily on it for our survival. One of the most impactful things you can do for sharks is become a conscious consumer. Sharks are used in a variety of different products, like pet food and cosmetics. Shark meat is often sold under misleading names like ‘rock salmon’, ‘flake’ and generic ‘white fish’. Conservation of the marine environment as a whole is imperative to ensure a healthy planet. There are many ways people can get involved. They can help clean up marine debris, reduce their use of single-use plastics, support conservation efforts, and even vote for environmental policies. People can sign petitions to make their voice count and educate others about the threats to our oceans and ways they can help. There is such a misunderstanding of sharks and I believe that photography and images have the power to change people’s perceptions as well.
Supporting pro-conservation organizations can go a long way if you send the right message. Water Inspired is a nonprofit that focuses on shark and general marine and nature conservation and utilizes the power of photography, science, immersive programs, art, technology, social media, events, and public presentations to reach a wider audience. Regarding our use of photography—specifically with co-founder @JuanSharks (Juan Oliphant)—I believe that a picture is worth a thousand words and can cross geographical and language barriers to reach scores of people. I think it is one of the most powerful ways to inspire conservation. We hope to inspire others through photos of people interacting with marine life, especially sharks, in a positive way, to give sharks a deeper look, give them a chance to survive and coexist.
I post a lot of @JuanSharks images of myself peacefully interacting with sharks so people can realize it’s possible to coexist and they are not monsters. I hope that the images lead them to read the captions or follow the links back to the websites so they can learn the truth about sharks. Sharks are so important, we need them, and now they need our protection from the wasteful practices such as finning, the killing of sharks just for their fins to go in a bowl of soup. By reaching out to the public through social media and providing a platform for immersive learning I hope to educate people and inspire them to join the effort for shark and marine conservation and show them how they can get involved in helping protect and conserve nature.
- Ryan Patrick Jones