Swimming With the Shark Whisperer

ABC News' Matt Gutman talks with a man who believes sharks are deeply misunderstood.
7:46 | 05/25/14

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Transcript for Swimming With the Shark Whisperer
It is pretty much a universally terrifying notion -- coming face to face with a shark. Now, one of the most hated beasts on earth has a controversial new spokesman. This guy not only swims unprotected with sharks he treats them like pets. Critics say his message may be good, but they argue his method are irresponsible and even dangerous. Tonight, abc's matt gutman suits up and gets in the water with the shark whisperer. It may be the sum of all human fears, maybe just mine. On your left. On your left. Reporter: Coming face to jaws with a 14-foot tiger shark, the size of a car. Wow. Reporter: You think "jaws." The apex predators that could sw swallow you whole. Great whites gnashing at shark cages, the surfer chomped by a tiger shark in hawaii. Check out videos filmed recently off a california beach. He is checking me out. Reporter: A great white. Here is another cruising beneath unsuspecting surfer. There were 80 unprovoked shark attacks reported on humans last year. Ten years ago it was just 60 attacks. These must be aggressive, blood-thirsty creatures, right? Maybe not. We flew out to the shark mecca of the bahamas to find out for ourselves. Motoring 30 miles out on the turquoise atlantic. Tell me when you want it? Ready? One, two, three. All for a rendezvous with jim abernathy, a shark conservationist. A man who believes sharks can be friends, not foes. Minutes later the bait is tossed overboard to get the sharks to circle. Sharks are around us. You expect the tigers to come around once we are down there. I hope so, right? Yeah! Everything looks perfect. Reporter: Abernathy has been diving with sharks for 35 years. One of the first to escape the steel cages and begin interacting with the animals directly. Interaction that has turned into affection. Abernathy gained international notoriety and host of critics with this kiss of a supposedly deadly tiger shark six years ago. Eventually abernathy would devil of -- develop a theory that they're docile and can be trained. He calls them "his pets." In particular there is a 14-foot wild tiger shark he named emma. Do you think you have a relationship with emma? I think so. I don't expect other people to think that. Most people would believe only what they see. Reporter: For nine years he has been lovingly saving them from hooks, parasites and occasionally ropes. Cut it. Whoa! Yeah. Push it back! Push it back! Yeah! Whoa! Reporter: The shark doesn't realize is it likes affection. Reporter: You think sharks lick like affection? No, I no sharks like affection. Because they come back for it like a dog. Or a cat. They even lean into it. Reporter: I see it. I see that you are not -- it has to be true. They come back to me over and over and over again. Reporter: But abernathy isn't naive. Before plunking in I get an indepth tutorial an reality check about keeping an eye on bigger sharks. Because they're more dangerous? Because if a small shark was to make a mistake and bite you, chances are, we could probably handle it. If a big shark makes a mistake and bites you, chances are you are going to bleed to death on the boat. Okay. Big distinction. Reporter: In 2008, one of his divers was mauled by a tiger shark. The tragic accident in open water. He died. A number of years ago there was a person on one of your tours who died as a result of a bite. What happened? I have been asked by the father not to talk about what happened on that day because he does want to relive the incident. But a series of mistakes were made. Reporter: Human or animal? Human. Reporter: Human mistakes? Yeah. Reporter: He blames human air railroad for the shark that chewed into his arm. He says there is risk but sharks under far greater threat. Humans kill 100 million sharks per year. For shark fins, just to kill the supposed monsters. The probability you could become shark bait yourself, one in 264 million. Statistically more likely to die from a falling coconut. The concept of man eating sharks, total bunk. No such thing. Reporter: No? Exempt in movies. Reporter: He also says he has led thousand of successful safe expeditions that have advanced the cause of the much maligned creatures. This is okay. Reporter: We suit up. Abernathy and I wearing dive masks that enable us to communicate underwater. Wearing nothing thicker than a welt suit wet suit as protection. You have to be fully in black. Sharks like color. Step down on the platform. We ease into the water following the bait crates. 40 feet down, a whirlwind of sharks. Our very own shark-nado. Abernathy swims to the center with me in tow. Turn around, matt, turn around. Wow. Suddenly we are surrounded by giant tiger sharks. And there as if on cue. Emma, the big one there spots an old friend. It is incredible. He believes she follows his boat even recognizes him. Watch how slowly she approaches him. It is not just emma who seems to want attention. Watch, something never before seen on camera. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? What are you doing? A full 30 second of cuddling. What is that? I don't know if you saw that, matt. Came up on my left, I was watching the tiger. Incredible. Reporter: The others are also curious. They keep nibbling at the camera. In one case, gobbling the camera I am holding. The white color of the camera pole remind them of fish. They try to taste. Matt, you don't realize there is a bunch of other sharks here now. I am. They keep trying to eat the camera. We head back for fresh air tanks. And he explains how unique the experience with the planet's apex predators really is. You can't run in africa with the lions, right? Reporter: Right. You can swim every day with large sharks. They do it all over the world. We head down below one last time to a quiet world lived at a shark's pace. Soon enough, abernathy's supermodel walks the runway again. Now it my time to show emma some love. I reach out my hand. And scratch as emma glide slowly away back towards abernathy.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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