This article appeared in the July 13, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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She made us afraid of ‘Jaws.’ Now she wants us to connect with sharks.

21st Century Fox
Renowned conservationist Valerie Taylor tests a dive suit made of steel chain mail to defend against the bite of a shark. Ms. Taylor, who is the subject of a new documentary, "Playing with Sharks," is a leading campaigner to save the creatures from being hunted.

If you’re afraid of swimming in the ocean – or maybe even getting into the bathtub – because of the movie “Jaws,” Valerie Taylor wants to apologize. She’s the diver who filmed great whites for Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster. 

“The thing that I regret is that people went out and killed sharks everywhere,” Ms. Taylor says in an upcoming National Geographic documentary about her life, “Playing With Sharks” (debuting July 23 on Disney+). It’s a story about her dramatic transformation. Once a spearfishing shark killer, the Australian is now trying to save the creature from being hunted for sport or for fin soup. 

Sharks can, of course, be deadly. But Ms. Taylor tells the Monitor that her early perception of sharks was based on media exaggerations during the 1950s. The first time she saw the docile grey nurse species while snorkeling, her brother yelled, “Swim for your life, Valerie.” Years later, Ms. Taylor and her husband, Ron, amplified that terror with their 1971 hit documentary, “Blue Water, White Death.” Soon after, Mr. Spielberg came calling. 

But as the Taylors spent more time filming underwater, they realized sharks have personalities. The creatures don’t usually attack people. Bites tend to be a result of mistaken identity or provocation by humans. 

“I don’t particularly love a shark – I might have loved one or two – but I respect them,” she says. 

The conservationist advocates teaching children to be unafraid by taking them snorkeling. 

“Look down and see grey nurse sharks minding their own business,” she says. “You lose that fear of the unknown and the dangerous. You realize it’s not unknown; it’s not that dangerous.”

This article appeared in the July 13, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 07/13 edition
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