HONOLULU (AP) — Divers monitoring a rotting whale carcass off the shores of Oahu this week found themselves face-to-face with a massive great white shark, prompting state officials to warn recreational divers and snorkelers to stay out of the water near the dead sperm whale amid reports some people have climbed onto the carcass to take its teeth as souvenirs.
“She was just this big beautiful gentle giant wanting to use our boat as a scratching post,” said Ramsey, who posted images of the encounter. “We went out at sunrise, and she stayed with us pretty much throughout the day.”
Hawaii waters are usually too warm for great whites compared with California’s Pacific coast, where they feed on sea lions and elephant seals, Ramsey said. She estimated this shark was more than 20 feet (6 meters) long and 8 feet (2.4 meters) across.
The giant white might have headed to Hawaii because of hunger and a need for extra nutrients in pregnancy, Ramsey said.
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources said in a statement Wednesday that the decomposing whale carcass had drifted to about eight miles (13 kilometers) south of Pearl Harbor after being towed 15 miles (24 kilometers) offshore days earlier.
The department said tiger sharks have been “almost continuously” feeding on the whale and said it was aware of photos of the great white.
The agency’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, Chief Jason Redull, said people should stay out of the water around the dead whale.
“We don’t want anyone to get hurt if a shark swimming around the carcass mistakes them as food. Understandably, some people want to get into the water either out of fascination or to get photographs, but it is truly dangerous to be around this carcass with so much shark activity,” he said.
Officials said the carcass it is currently drifting away from shore, but a predicted shift in the winds could once again push it back toward Oahu.
The shark could be the famed Deep Blue based on her size and markings, Ramsay said. Deep Blue is believed to be the largest white shark ever recorded. Ramsey previously swam with the huge shark on research trips to Guadalupe Island, Mexico.
“Big pregnant females are actually the safest ones to be with — the biggest, oldest ones — because they’ve seen it all, including us,” Ramsey said. “That’s why I kind of call her, like, a grandma shark.”
Sharks usually only bite when they’re curious or mistake people for their natural prey but are unpredictable, she said.
The images will stop you in your tracks — a woman in a wet suit and with a camera swimming side by side with a 20 foot great white shark.
Ocean Ramsey, the marine biologist in Hawaii who swam with the great white shark, said Friday on “Today” that she had no reason to be nervous. Ramsey said sharks like the 8 foot wide one she swam next to on Tuesday, “swim past surfers, swimmers, and divers all day every day.”
“It’s so rare that they ever make a mistake,” she said.
Ramsey has been studying great white sharks for over 10 years, and estimates the shark that became her swimming partner earlier this week weighs in at over two tons. She and her team were studying tiger sharks off the coast of Oahu, documenting the animals’ behavior, when they encountered the great white that would have sent most swimmers fearing for their life.
“We never would have imagined we would be fortunate enough to be graced with the presence of this massive, big, beautiful, female white shark” Ramsey said. “It fills my heart with joy and takes my breath away.”
The images from the scene are striking, to say the least. They went viral after Ramsey posted them on Instagram. In a video of the encounter, Ramsey is seen holding the shark’s fin while they swim in tandem. Seeing Ramsey next to the shark gives you a sense of just how massive the great white is.