Fancy swimming with sharks? How about hugging one? That's the life that Australian diver Rick Anderson leads daily. Over the last seven years, Anderson has formed an unusual but beautiful friendship with a 6-foot-long female Port Jackson shark. Whenever they see each other, cuddles ensue.
Every time this shark sees Anderson enter her part of Nobbys Bay, she swims over to him to say hello. The shark does not have a name, but Anderson knows it's the same shark every time because of her distinct markings.
"I started playing with her about seven years ago when she was just a pup about 6 inches long," Anderson said. "I approached her carefully so as not to spook her, then began to gently pat her. Once she got used to me, I would cradle her in my hand and talk soothingly to her through my regulator."
Much smaller than the more infamous great white shark, Port Jackson sharks defy the fear that media and entertainment have spread about sharks. "The biggest misconception about sharks is that they are all mindless killers lying in wait for people to enter the water so they can be devoured," Anderson said.
As for Anderson's friend, she has no trouble expressing her love for her human buddy. The shark loves to cuddle up with him and pose for pictures.
Anderson explains that "over the following seasons, she'd recognize me and would swim up to me for a pat and cuddle. She soon got used to me – to the point where she will swim up to me when I'm going past, and tap me on the legs until I hold my arms out for her to lay on for a cuddle."
"Most divers seeing this for the first time can't believe it," Anderson said. "I don't feed her or any of the other sharks I play with – I basically treat them like I would a dog." As the owner of a dive school and a scuba diver of 27 years, Anderson hopes that the story of this friendship with this shark will change people's perceptions of these majestic fish.
Anderson dives with many other shark species too, including tiger sharks, banjo sharks, nurse sharks, hammerhead sharks and bull sharks. Occasionally, Anderson has had the opportunity to swim near a great white shark. "I have always felt comfortable swimming with these animals," he said.
Follow along with Anderson's underwater adventures and keep up with his friendship with the Port Jackson shark on Facebook or Instagram, and check out this video for more information about this beautiful relationship.