Meet Shark diving professional Cristina Zenato
The annual week of shark obsession has arrived ! What better way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of shark week than meet up with Shark diving professional Cristina Zenato. Cristina has been diving with sharks for the last twenty-two years. Her field knowledge about sharks has been utilized by scientists, filmmakers and people interested in learning about sharks, the world they live in and how to protect them. Waterproof Cruises & Expeditions’ CEO Marlynda Elstgeest dives deeper in the world of sharks and interviewed the “shark whisperer” and Waterproof Ambassador Cristina Zenato.
Where do you come from?
Originally from Italy, although I call myself a citizen of the world. I grew up in the rainforest in Africa, I lived for a few years in Italy and then moved to the Bahamas.
How do you move as a little girl from Italy to the Bahamas?
I was not a little girl anymore, I was twenty-two years old. It was one of those crazy things you do because you are twenty-two. I always wanted to learn how to scuba dive but never could because I needed to match money and time. The two of them never matched until I was twenty-two, I went on a vacation to the Bahamas and I learned how to scuba dive. After I did it I thought ‘Now what?’ Everyone was like “Now you go back home, you go back to work and you can go diving in six months on your next trip.” But I had this dream of doing it every day and being an underwater scuba ranger.
Did your parents had a big role in your education and in how you see the world?
Yes! It is interesting how people in Africa live with wildlife, they kill to eat or kill if they have to defend themselves. But otherwise they coexist with the animals, it is interesting how they learn to avoid each other. My mom, my dad , my grandma and Africa taught me the acceptance of life. But besides that I always felt that passion, I watched every single documentary there was. My favorite one had sharks in it, I thought they were one of the most beautiful creatures I’d ever seen.
You never been scared for sharks?
I always liked sharks, my mom and dad taught me that every animal is just an animal and you need to understand them. You need to understand how they work and how they function. I am just happy when I am with sharks. I remember the first years of my life as a diver. Every time I had the surface from the dive I would hang on the line and wave. Somebody ripped my heart out cause I had to surface, it took me five years until I realized I could keep coming back to that. I wanted to learn more about the species, when I had the chance to buy a book or travel somewhere to observe them I did. Then I met Micheal Rutzan and I wanted to see how he worked with the sharks. After that I went somewhere else and saw how other divers dived with the sharks. I watched videos, I followed people that I absolutely loved like Rodney Fox and Dr. Eugenia Clark and had over fifty books about sharks. I red and then I spent time in the water with them and I started watching their behaviour.
Do you just go in to the water and wait until they appear?
We attract them by food otherwise we would never been able to see sharks. We feed them and they stay around, and within time they come close enough so I can touch them. In the beginning I would just touch them on the top of the head. One day Van Rose was touching one and the shark just stopped, we were all like “wauw!” So we started trying to do that, pet the shark so it will stop swimming. When we fast-forward twenty-two-years they come and sit on my lap without me even touching them.
Do you have an explanation for that behaviour?
Well some of it is that the sharks have a very high sensitive system in their heads. Some people call what I do tonic immobility which is not. Because tonic immobility is a natural reaction of the shark to stress and threat. What I do is simply touch them so I believe there is no fear or pain. It definitely doesn’t hurt, it definitely doesn’t scare them and so they stay. I know that because I remove hooks from them, when it hurts the shark wakes up and swims away, after a while she comes back.
Have you had scientists look at this?
I have and they have no explanations. I have scientists friends who are going with me and they say, the sharks just love you. These are people with Masters in Marine Biology Shark behaviour, but they say there is a difference on how sharks react to people.
Do you wear a special suit?
I wear a suit that is called the chainmail, it’s a full body protection, I wear it out of respect for the animals. People often say ‘Well if the sharks are really nice you shouldn’t be wearing the suit.’ But I think it is the same when you wear a helmet or a seatbelt in the car. Not because you expect to have an accident but when you have an accident you want to be prepared. My suit is there to prevent accidental bites, which could be caused by me moving the fish or not moving my hand away. I am still feeding animals with teeth so that’s the reason why. To be honest with you, I am training my puppy and have two holes in my finger thanks to my puppy little sharp teeth. That is why I think it is really interesting when people say that when shark were really save, you wouldn’t wear the suit. But if you think about it there are many animals were you have to think about safety. Not because they do it on purpose but because you might get hurt.
VIDEO: Cristina Zenato suiting up to feed sharks in the Bahamas. ©@wildkingdomtv
Some people have been attacked, do you think it is dangerous for divers to be in the water with sharks?
It is such a minority compared to people going in to the water around the world. Padi has 25 million divers, so even if it just one of all these 25 million divers that have been in to the water, what do we hear? Two, three, four shark bites a year. As divers we do something very important we wear a tank and we are blowing bubbles, we are telling the shark we are not food. I believe they are one of the safest animals to be in the wild with.
What is your biggest goal in life?
My biggest goal in life is to expand the understanding of sharks. My biggest goal will be that the industry itself realizes the value of these animals. From an ecosystem point of view, from an environment point of view, but also from a financial point of view. For what they can actually bring to some countries like the Bahamas or Fiji where I spent a lot of time with them and see more divers work with sharks and enjoy it.
Why do you like to work with the brand WATERPROOF?
I have been a passionate consumer of WATERPROOF for years. And I have used many brands for other things but Waterproof Diving International is the highest quality from a suit point of view, Waterproof Cruises & Expeditions has the same high quality detail to it. There is also some loyalty within the company WATERPROOF, they want whats best for the costumer. They look at every single detail to make sure that the person who comes in walks out with a custom-made trip, that fits them, just as well as the suit fits you. For me it is an absolute honour to be part of the WORLD OF WATERPROOF cause I know it gives you an educational value and a value itself on the trip.
You have lived so far and lived an unusual life as a young woman making quite unusual decisions early in life. What do you advise the young woman out there that want to do the same things as you?
I am actually working on a book in which I always say that woman more than men are required to play so many roles in life. It started many years ago when woman where supposed to be a house wife. When they were supposed to vacuum and clean in a dress and high heels. We were given all these rolls, we don’t realize we can sometimes pick more than one role. You can become anything you want!
See more of Cristina’s work https://cristinazenato.com
Follow in the footsteps of Cristina Zenato, and BOOK your WATERPROOF expedition today!