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Laurel Robbins writes her own shark tale

Swimming with dolphins is a fairly common activity for people vacationing in tropical locales, but swimming with sharks?

Some people are interested in sharks, many are afraid of them and a select few enjoy swimming with the salt water assassins — like, Mount Royal’s Program Director for Business Education Training in Continuing Education, Laurel Robbins.

The native of Pincher Creek, a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie and nature lover, figures her fascination with sharks may have been pre-destined.

While most middle-aged adults are far too scarred after growing up with the Jaws movies to even consider swimming with a shark, Robbins has always had an interest in dangerous animals.
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Robbins had one of her scariest encounters when a hammerhead swam directly at her face during one particularly exciting dive.

She spent many hours as a young woman growing up in southern Alberta hunting down notorious hunters — not to kill them, rather to observe.

To this day she can tell you the best sites to spot a grizzly bear.

“I’m actually petrified of sharks, absolutely petrified.

"The first time I jumped in the water, while diving in Thailand I didn’t see any sharks and was just fine with it,” says Robbins, passionately recounting some of her most memorable diving experiences.

“But, something about the idea of it stayed with me.

"Then seven years later I had the opportunity to dive with nurse sharks in Belize, which was really cool.

"They’re just like big catfish — but I could say I went diving with sharks. Nurse sharks are about six to seven feet in length, but they’re bottom feeders, they won’t touch you unless you stick your hand in their mouth.”

Robbins has followed her passion all over the world and spent time underwater in the presence of more than eight species of shark.

She plans all her vacations around shark diving, and even met her German boyfriend through the hobby.

“You don’t meet a lot of people who shark dive so it’s really nice to have someone to share that with because most people think you’re crazy and can’t understand why you’d do it.”
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Robbins enjoys other wildlife aside from sharks. Can you spot the octopus?
Robbins readily admits there have been moments where she’s wondered if Mount Royal might soon have an opening to fill in her department.

“One of my scariest moments was when we were going on a dive with bull sharks, which are one of the five most aggressive sharks in the world.

“The dive master said ‘everyone get in and stay on the surface,’ but that’s the stupidest thing you can do because that’s where every shark attack happens. So I’m thinking ‘great, we’re going diving with one of the most aggressive sharks and the dive master has no clue what he’s doing.’ But it’s such a huge opportunity that you can’t turn it down.

“Fortunately we actually did see two bull sharks and nobody was attacked. It was such a beautiful moment because we were just a metre away from them and they knew we were there, and while they were interested, they weren’t aggressive.

“It’s like this epiphany that’s just so beautiful because you’re swimming there in the water with two killer animals that could take you out at any second, but it was so peaceful that it was surreal. It was utter relaxation – you’re adrenaline is going through the roof, right before you jump in, but once you’re there it’s like you’re just at one with nature.”

Speaking of Jaws, Robbins doesn’t initially list the legendary great white shark as one of the species she’s looking forward to diving with. When questioned about the most notorious species of shark, Robbins takes a breath as if wrestling with her own thoughts on the matter

“I have a lot of apprehension about the great white. You can do cage diving with them in South Africa, but it’s very controversial because half the experts say that encourages them to attack people and half say that it doesn’t.

“I’d do that no sweat in a cage — would I want to go free diving with them — not sure. That’s where I might draw the line because they are so unpredictable. They aren’t the largest shark but they can be very aggressive and unpredictable. So I haven’t made up my mind about the great whites yet.”

Then again, she says one of the aspects she embraces about shark diving is the opportunity to challenge commonly held misconceptions.

With sharks, she’s finding there are no shortage of those to confront.

— Steven Noble