Shark girl on a mission to fight fear

Shark girl Amie Williamson
Shark girl Amie Williamson

You only need to hear the first few bars of John William’s fear inducing theme to the film Jaws and you start to think twice about dipping your toe in the water.

The impact of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 splash and slash movie was so great it made audiences terrified to even dive into their local swimming pool, never mind go skinny-dipping in open water.

The Great White Shark is often viewed as a relentless killing machine – an ocean-based terminator that just will not stop until your boat or surf board is ripped apart and you become the main course of the day.

Amie Williams (22) admits to have “fallen in love” with sharks – all sharks, over 400 different species, she loves them all and wants to make it her life’s work to set the record straight about these much maligned and misunderstood sea creatures.

She said: “I actually think the Great Whites are really elegant. You can’t comprehend how beautiful they are until you see them up close. At first you think of them as kind of like bulldozers, but it’s almost mesmerizing when you see them in the water.”

The former Comely Park Primary School pupil has already earned a first class degree in marine science and is now halfway towards gaining her masters in ecosystem based management of marine systems at the University of St Andrews.

She said: “I’m actually hoping to do a PHD and further research into shark behaviour both in this country and also in America or the Tropics – I don’t like rain.”

Amie’s love affair with sharks began when she was just ten-years-old on family holidays with her parents, Robert and Katrina, and twin brother Robert.

“We would go to Cyprus and I would go diving. When I got a little bit older and I got my diving qualifications we went to Egypt and I went diving in the Red Sea. It was the ocean and life underwater that initially fascinated me.

“I thought sharks were quite cool, but it wasn’t until I went to South Africa to work with Great White Sharks for a month that I actually fell in love with them. I was in a boat which was putting bait out on a bit of rope and the Great White was not even a hand reach away from me.

“Some of them were as long as four metres, which was bigger than the boat we were in.”

Amie is now the Scottish ambassador for a Bahamas-based organisation Sharks 4 Kids, which gives youngsters the true facts about these fascinating fish.

Sharks 4 Kids states sharks play a critical role in the delicate balance of ocean ecosystems, however, despite their importance, shark populations are being decimated globally.

Contrary to popular belief, only a few sharks are dangerous to humans. Out of over 400 species, only four have been involved in a significant number of fatal, unprovoked attacks on humans – the Great White, Oceanic Whitetip, Tiger Shark and Bull Shark.

These large predators may sometimes attack and kill people, although very rarely. To help avoid an unprovoked attack, humans should refrain from splashing around too much.

The rapid decline in populations together with the man-eating monster stereotypes sharks have been saddled with over the years have left certain species fighting for their survival so it’s up to ambassadors like Amie to spread the good word.

She said: “I go around schools trying to promote all the things we know about sharks to kids and take away the fear factor some of them have. I really want them to see sharks the way I see them.

“People think of them roaming the oceans alone, but some shark species like Hammerheads are actually quite sociable.”

Her first hand experience with sharks include close encounters with Whale Sharks – massive in body but not in appetite – and Threshers, which have a long tail they use to whip and stun their prey.

Through all her dives Amie’s one and only close call was not a shark attack, but the time she found herself unable to follow her diving party because of an equipment malfunction.

She said: “I had to come up alone and there was no one there, just me in the water. I couldn’t see the boat and thought I was all alone. What I didn’t know was the boat was there, I just couldn’t see it over the waves.

“I screamed in sheer panic and that did the trick. I actually didn’t dive again for two years after that.”

It would take more than that to put Amie off her quest, however, and she is as committed as ever to finding out all she can about sharks and then passing that information on to as many people as possible.

“I see myself working towards understanding these animals through research, but hope I can work in education as well. There is still this fear associated with sharks and I think education is the key to getting rid of that.

“I would love to go out into the water every day and study sharks.”