Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cristina Zenato, shark handler

Cristina Zenato can put reef sharks into tonic immobility by stroking them on the nose.

From CristinaZenato website

Born in Italy, Cristina Zenato grew up in the rain forests of 1970’s African Congo until the age of 15, and naturally developed a love of the outdoors.
Her tremendous passion for the ocean surfaced at a young age, and following her love for the water she journeyed to the Bahamas for work, and learned to dive..

16 years later she is still proudly working for The Underwater Explorers Society, and from her humble beginnings as a Scuba Instructor, she climbed the ladder to become the head of diving at UNEXSO, teaching technical diving plus cave and cavern classes.
When Cristina is not working, she can usually be found freediving or exploring new cave systems.

Speaking five different languages, Italian, English, German, French and Spanish, Cristina became a tour de force – a PADI, NAUI, SSI, SDI, open water instructor, NSS-CDS full cave instructor, Extended Range Instructor, TDI advanced Nitrox with decompression procedure and more, she is a talented young lady.

Cristina’s love of exploration and caving is inspiring, yet it pales when it comes to Sharks. Cristina has a natural ‘gift’, some would say, with Sharks.
Practicing a little known technique of rubbing and manipulating her fingers across the ampullae of Lorenzini, the visible dots [electro-receptive sensory organs] all around a shark’s head and face, she induces a tonic immobility.
To the observer, this looks like a shark falling asleep right in her lap.
Last fall a Blue shark appeared to fall asleep in her hands, on the surface.
As she caressed the beautiful ten foot ocean traveler, the fact that she had no chain-mail suit on this occasion never seemed to cross her mind.

Her ability to work with several types of shark in this manner has allowed her to study up close, in the wild, with no stress from the usual hooks, gaffs, and undue pain some shark researchers have used to gather data.
In fact the sharks at her home in the Bahamas almost seem to know her for her gentle spirit, and warm to her touch.
Guests are on occasion, encouraged to feel the shark’s skin while in this calm state.
This in turn gives visiting divers on the Shark Dive at UNEXSO the chance to dissolve any misconceptions or preconceptions they may have had about shark life.
She teaches divers who are interested, to feed the local Caribbean Reef sharks by hand, hoping to bring people closer to understanding the secret world of these creatures.

First learning to feed sharks with her mentor [the legendary Ben Rose] Cristina has researched shark behavior, and comparison and change in sharks.
From the Bimini Shark Lab, South Africa, North Carolina, Florida and Mexico, Cristina writes a few short stories and reports for newsletters about sharks, [and also cave diving and training] having observed the behaviors of Tigers, Great Whites, Lemons, Reefs, and Bulls.
She has further developed her practice of tonic immobility, to remove hooks from shark’s mouths, to remove parasites, and for her Awareness Campaign against shark finning and capture, for shark protection, and human education.

Naturally, all this talent sparked up the attention of filmmakers, documentary and TV producers worldwide, and as you might imagine, the list of film and TV work Cristina has achieved is immense.
Just a few on the TV list are BBC, Discovery, Nat Geo, ABC, Science and Nature programs all over Europe and the USA.
Films include Der See Wulf, Shark Water, Shark Man, Oceans, including non-profits like Gimme-A-Hug / Protect the Sharks Foundation.

Involved in magazines like, Skin Diver, Sport Diver, Advance Diver Magazine and also working on calendars to fund shark awareness, the list goes on.
Needless to say, on her home island of Grand Bahama, Cristina works closely with the National Trust, and has been awarded the rights/permit to dive the guarded Ben’s Cave, further forging a conservation alliance with them to re-draw the map of Ben’s, aiding to protect the delicate cave system.

Look for her in the next shark program you watch, she might well be lurking next to the lens negotiating with the shark to not worry about these odd people staring at them..
A sense of who Cristina Zenato is can only truly be felt underwater.
There, she is more at home than she is on land, and an apt quote by Jacques Cousteau says it all:
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”

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