Scubadiver Has Been Friends with a 15-Foot-Long Tiger Shark for Over Two Decades

Scubadiver Has Been Friends with a 15-Foot-Long Tiger Shark for Over Two Decades

By Spooky on December 19th, 2023 Category: Animals

A Florida scuba diver claims he has been best friends with a 15-foot-shark named Emma for almost 23 years now, describing her more like a playful dog than an apex predator.

Jim Abernethy and Emma first met in 2001 when he removed a fishing hook from her mouth, and they’ve been inseparable ever since. Every time Jim goes into the water in the area of Tiger Beach, in the Bahamas, she comes around and rubs heads with him as a sign of affection. It’s not the kind of behavior most people expect from a huge, 15-foot-long tiger shark that could easily tear a human apart, and that’s exactly what makes Emma the perfect poster girl in Jim Abernathy’s ongoing mission to change people’s perceptions of sharks.

Photo: Gerald Schombs/Unsplash

“What makes Emma so special is she is really big, she’s huge and she has the oh s**t factor when you look at her like it might be the last thing you do,” Jim told The Sun. “But you’re in the water for a short amount of time before realizing she is so loving and affectionate. They are not mindless man-eating monsters, in fact, they are sentient creatures just like cats and dogs. With Emma, it’s just like rolling around in the grass with your retriever, it’s very fun and loving and it’s how I’m able to get the selfie shots.”

Jim was diving around Tiger Beach in 2001 when he first spotted this giant tiger shark circling a few feet away.  She eventually approached him, and he managed to pull a fishing hook from her mouth, despite the obvious risks. Abernathy has since removed four other hooks from Emma’s mouth on several occasions, and the two are best friends.


Emma approached Jim every time he dived in her area and she could recognize him even if he changed diving gear. Over time, she learned his hand signals – an invitation to get her head rubbed – and Abernethy claims that she started acting like a playful dog who loves being petted.

“Trying to describe what it’s like really makes me believe that the English language isn’t good enough,” Jim Abernathy said. “To have a connection that lasts the entire time you’re in the water is so moving and so impactful. One of the best things that’s happened to me is this discovery of the affectionate side of sharks.”


We previously wrote about the unusual 25-year friendship between a Japanese diver and an Asian sheepshead wrasse by the name of Yoriko, but Jim Abernathy’s friendship with a giant tiger shark is even more impressive.

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