We Went to Shark School With Shark Week's Paul de Gelder
"Don't act like food," Shark Week's Paul de Gelder reminds me cheerfully on a boat in the Bahamas as we prepare to scuba dive in shark-populated waters. No problem, Paul. I'’m psyched to meet the stars of the annual fin-fest (airing July 28–August 4) firsthand, but I don't want to lose any fingers.
As we splash into the 82-degree Atlantic, I mentally rerun de Gelder's pre-dive briefing: "Food" moves fast and erratically, like a fish, or stays on the surface, like a seal. He became a morsel himself 10 years ago. While he was training with the Australian Navy, a bull shark took his right arm and leg. "I was in murky water in a black wet suit looking like an injured seal on the surface," de Gelder says. "My fault."
He is now a shark expert and advocate, dispelling myths about the predators. In Laws of Jaws: Dangerous Waters (July 30, 9/8c), de Gelder gets in the ocean and opens a bag of his own blood (he drew it himself) to show that the scent won't start a feeding frenzy. It's one of five attack scenarios tested in the follow-up to last year's Laws nail-biter.
My encounter is 40 feet down, on the ocean floor. A diver with chain mail over his wet suit waves fish chunks from a bait box on a long skewer. Paul and I kneel two yards away as 25 Caribbean reef sharks, some 6 feet long, circle us while they feed. I'm mesmerized by their grace and agility.
Paul takes my hand and helps me pet a smaller nurse shark that feels like sandpaper. These animals are accustomed to humans — unlike the open-ocean silkies that circle de Gelder in another sequel, Sharkwrecked: Crash Landing (July 30, 8/7c). He and former British Royal Marine James Glancy again strand themselves at sea, this time for 44 hours mimicking downed WWII pilots in the South Pacific.
Too soon, Paul and I are back on board, where he confirms my grin isn't unexpected. "Shark Week raises awareness about how magical sharks are," he says before heading off to film Shark Trip: Eat. Prey. Chum. (July 28, 9/8c) with celebrity comedians. "We want people to help save these animals."
Shark Week 2019, July 28–August 4, Discovery Channel