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Meet "Shark Man" Andre Hartman

Author: Lalo Saidy

I have always been fascinated by sharks since I was a kid, from collecting shark books to watching every shark documentary I could. I would daydream about seeing a white shark with my own eyes instead of seeing them on tv and made myself a promise that one day I would. Little did I know that dream would become a reality and made even better by getting to work side by side with the man I grew up watching on tv and admired the most and now fortunate enough to have had as my teacher and my friend.

Most kids have comic book superheroes, but my hero was the real life Sharkman-Andre Hartman in South Africa. I was in complete awe of this man that would enter the water and free dive with Great white sharks. To most people this seemed like a dangerous act for tv fame, but his work showcased something much more important.

By interacting and learning the Great white’s behavior, Andre actually managed to change the public’s perceptions of this so called mindless man eater by removing the negative image of this misunderstood shark thru positive interactions.Not only did he manage to do this via film and his storytelling, he also help put Gansbaai , South Africa on the map by starting one of the first cage diving companies allowing tourists and photographers/film makers to experience this amazing shark for themselves.

My story with Andre began in December 2003 as a tourist booked on his boat. We didn’t even see a shark on my first excursion, but it didn’t even bother me as I got to spend the day sitting and chatting with my child hood idol.

I came back and signed up for an underwater videography internship that was supposed to last 2 months and now 17 years later am still in the same profession as an underwater videographer/photographer, white shark guide and dive instructor .

Everything I know about white shark behavior I learned from Andre, from body language to learning how to open mouths ( a practice no longer allowed but used to be a photography/film favorite).

My favorite shark moments have all been shared on the water with Andre and learning from him but hands down my 2 favorite moments -1) when he asked me to join and help film for Animal Planet with Steve Irwin and 2) going down in the shark submarine with him and interacting with white sharks in their underwater world is an experience that can not be put into words.

When I think of white sharks , there is only one person that comes to mind and why I thought of him and sharing his story for my first blog interview. Andre is one of South Africa’s few self-taught shark experts and is respected as such having been featured in numerous documentaries on Discovery, CNN and National Geographic to name a few.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for this man’s passion, dedication and teachings in terms of helping change perceptions and show a different side of one of the most feared animals on the planet via images/ film making and by starting one of the first shark tourism companies that allowed the everyday person to spend a day face to face with one of the most amazing creatures on the planet.

Lalo with Andre

1. How did you get started diving? Diving with sharks? What inspired you?

Through spearfishing When working in the Navy, one of my colleagues was a Springbok spear fisher man and he became my mentor. I became a Springbok Spear fisher man, and through the years of diving came across many sharks and my first encounter with a Great White was back in 1977. It tried to bite me! I was spear fishing at the time and carrying a lot of fish. It came in and tried to take me. I saw it coming, so I gave it the gun. It didn’t like it, so it swam away.

I was petrified of the things at first.. We used to run into these animals all the time. We needed to learn more about them, which places to avoid, how to push them off with a spear gun. Overtime that fear began to be replaced with respect.

The more time I started to spend around the sharks, the better I started to understand them. And in 1996 I started Marine Dynamics, a cage diving company that took out tourists, photographers and film crews from around the world

2. What is one shark you would like to see/swim with/dive with?

I have swum with most sharks, but for me it will always be with the Great White, because it makes you feel alive. You always have adrenaline pumping.

3. Do you think sharing your experience diving with sharks is important for shark/ocean conservation?

Yes, sharing my experience is important as it helped changed perceptions and helped found ecotourism and shark cage diving in South Africa . We were one of the first countries to protect the great white and I would like to think that by introducing the public to these sharks and changing negative perceptions we were able to achieve that.

Diving with the GW has taught me how to understand their behavior. I learned this by entering their environment myself to understand more about the GW and to push the envelope always trying something different. For example slowing swimming away from them or charging the GW to see what the animal would do . Having been so close and personal diving with the GW, I have learned so much about their personal space.

Each shark is an individual and each one has it’s own personality- some will allow you to touch them, and others will not allow you close to them.

4. What’s the coolest thing you have seen while diving with sharks?

I have seen many cool things diving with sharks – I would have to say it was the time I took divers out of the cage in Shark Alley for the first time and had 5 huge sharks swimming between 3 divers. The viz was great, sea calm and the sharks were so relaxed.

5. What is one thing you wish everyone knew about sharks?

They don’t attack for no reason. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time for example , close to seals like early morning or late afternoon swimming around on the surface, that is there hunting time. If they see movement, they will grab immediately and ask questions later. They are just doing what is in their nature to do. They are following instinct, nothing more.

6. What is your favorite shark and why?

The Thresher Shark because it has a beautiful face and the way it catches its prey by hitting it’s prey with its long tail

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