Brett McBride — The Evolution Of A Shark Man
By Chris Landers
Captain Brett McBride, who sprang to fame on National Geographic's "Shark Men", says he is not a showboater. This is partly a response to critics who have accused him of exactly that. As he says it, he's demonstrating his technique for leading a 17-foot long great white into a metal-and-plastic corral, lifting the whole thing out of the water to tag the shark, while streaming seawater over its gills with a hose, and then steering the huge animal out the other side, by the tail. (It is no more complicated, and no saner, than it sounds.)
McBride is the captain aboard Ocearch, the vessel owned by the organization, of the same name, that facilitates the research of sharks. They partner with scientists to give them a research platform for tagging and testing great whites. Scientists who've worked with them say it is a unique opportunity to document a species about which little is known, but the mission has not been without controversy. Before the vessel arrived in Cape Cod last summer, a petition against them circulated, criticizing their methods. If there is an element of showmanship in what he does, McBride says it's for a good cause.
"The television part is a huge part of what we do," McBride says. "It creates awareness. We have millions of kids watching. There might be 10 thousand new marine biologists that are 6 or 12 years old now and are getting inspired by what we're doing."
McBride has been in front of the camera for 15 years now, first on ESPN2's "Offshore Adventures", then a progression of shows ("Ocean Hunters", "Shark Hunters", "Shark Men") leading to "Shark Wranglers" (on the History Channel), which documents the voyages of their boat.
Before the cameras started rolling, though, he was a 5-year-old kid obsessed with sharks and animals in general, who knew he wanted to be a professional fisherman, and started working on a fishing boat at the age of 11.
"You don't always know what you're going to learn, or what you're going to think about," he says. "When I started doing the shark thing, part of it was trying to keep a job, quite frankly. I wasn't a conservationist, I didn't say ‘I'm going to go out there and do this.' I love the ocean, because the ocean has given me everything. It's my time to give back."
McBride and the rest of the crew, part mariners, part fishermen, part researchers, and part television stars, travel the world to capture and tag great white sharks. They'll be the first to tell you that it isn't a bad gig. They have been from Cape Town to California to (most recently) Cape Cod where I caught up with them. Their New England mission isn't being televised, but they had a cameraman aboard, to film for their blog, and the visit, coming at a time when sharks were resurgent in the land of "Jaws", got its share of press.
Outside on the deck, McBride pointed out different parts of the shark corral and showed off a specially designed shark hook they've improved with a butter knife and a Styrofoam float. He says again that he isn't showing off, and then he tells a story to illustrate how safe it is to swim with the sharks. "You can't buy a shark attack," he says. "I've swum in the middle of shark schools, probably six or 800 sharks in a feeding frenzy, where all you see is fins, tails, and teeth. As a point, to show people they were going to [only] eat the bait, I swim up, with my arms and legs out and just shut my eyes for a minute, with the sharks slamming into me. When I opened up my eyes, they were gone."
— Published: April/May 2013
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