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Can Old Sharks Teach Us New Tricks?

Ever since I was a young boy I have always been fascinated with sharks. Maybe fascinated isn’t the word. Passionate. Is that the right word? Obsessed is probably more accurate. No, it wasn’t because of Jaws but rather all those Jacques Cousteau PBS specials I watched with my dad during my formative years. As I grew older, more mature and braver (maybe not so much wiser), I became a scuba diver and have continued to hone this hobby to align with my shark obsession. During my diving career I have progressively risen up the ranks of underwater shark encounters/experiences: nurse sharks, black tip reef sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, blue sharks, lemon sharks, bull sharks, hammerhead sharks, tiger sharks and the elusive and magnificent whale shark. This journey up the food chain came to its zenith this past October when I truly had the experience of a lifetime — my own Shark Week expedition to Guadalupe Island to cage dive with great whites.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of the first-ever Cinema Science Expedition put together by Andy Casagrande (ABC4 Explore), world-recognized underwater cinema expert and a frequent presence on the Discovery Channel during Shark Week every year. He and his incredible (and more talented 😊) wife Emma helped me not only live out my dream of getting into the water with these amazing creatures but also helped me learn some important lessons about our oceans, the overall ecosystem and how these dominant apex predators exist. While I will never forget the sites, the smells, the adrenaline and the overall stimulus overload of being on the shore of Guadalupe Island — a place I had seen for years on TV — I’ve been asked what I really learned and how it impacts my real life on land. After much reflection, and a lot of going through GoPro videos, I’ve summarized these three key takeaways that I think all of us can apply to our daily lives.

#1 Great whites are apex predators — the top of the food chain. Well, in some parts of the world yes, but not necessarily. There is growing evidence and even video to support the fact that in some parts of the world orcas (yes, those cute Shamus) dominate and hunt in pods to kill great whites. Lesson: There is always a bigger fish out there. In whatever you do, you must remain humble. You can be a giant in your field, in your office, in your market, but if you think there is never something that will come along and take you off that perch, you are wrong. Humility will keep your feet on the ground but also keep you hungry and less likely to become complacent.

#2 Great whites are lone wolves, solo assassins that swim through the seas all alone on their endless pursuit of the hunt. Again, not so fast. Recent genetic evidence is coming in from expeditions in Guadalupe and from a great white nursery near Baja California, Mexico, have shown that different great white pups, differing by 2+ years in age, have genetic links to not only the same mother but to the same father! Could it be that great whites are monogamous in mating?  Lesson: ABC – Always be curious. If you approach each day with the confidence that you don’t know everything and that you can always learn something new, you will always be improving. True insight can only be gleaned through true curiosity. So embrace the phase “I don’t know” and set yourself up on a path of discovery!

#3 Great whites are prehistoric, mindless, indiscriminate killers. Well, for one I’ve been in the water with several people who make their living swimming with these beauties and they are still here to talk about it. But even more interesting is that during my recent expedition we deployed a GoPro camera to the dorsal fin of a great white and were fortunate to retrieve the footage. About an hour into the footage we had a sea lion swimming just up in front of the great white. We thought for certain this would be a predation. But the big, bad, bully, monster great white just swam on by. Lesson: Don’t judge a book by its cover or assume past performance will be indicative of future events. We are all only as good as we are in the moment, and what we determine to do tomorrow does not have to be like yesterday. Be brave – determine your future direction and go for it. Like that cute little sea lion that was determined to get somewhere on that day.

At HCB we have embraced Humility, Curiosity, and Bravery as our core values.  We work to ensure that HCB is not just on our business cards, but that it is ingrained into our DNA.  We challenge each other daily to ensure that we exhibit and live these values both internally and externally with our client partners.  Each time that I am granted the opportunity to “swim with the sharks” (literally or figuratively) I realize that these qualities extend beyond our agency walls and into everyday life.  Humility, Curiosity, and Bravery can be found almost anywhere in the world around us, we just have to be on the lookout.  So c’mon, jump in, the water feels great!


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