Interview of Irina Britanova to the magazine "Onair"

In the Indian Ocean, between the southern atolls of Addu and Huvad - khu, lies the tiny island of Fuvahmulah, one of the most famous in the Maldives. Firstly, this is the only volcanic island in the archipelago, there are beautiful freshwater lakes, mango orchards, papaya plantations, and many flowers grow. And secondly, this place is considered one of the best in the world for diving with sharks, because in one dive you can see up to 20 tiger sharks in their natural habitat. It was for the sharks that the divers Irina and Petr Britanov once came here. The couple founded the diving club @Tigersharkprofi on the paradise island, from which you can dive into the amazing underwater world. From a conversation with Irina @irina.britanova.maldives, we learned a lot of useful things: we learned where and how to dive safely and who a diver should really be afraid of.

  • Irina, on one of the latest videos on Instagram, your husband gives the shark a sign with his hand, it turns around and starts swimming in the other direction. What is it all about? Are sharks, and even in their natural habitat, amenable to training?

I understand that for a person who is far from the diving topic, all this looks as strange as possible ... Now I will explain.

Shark diving requires instructors whose task is to protect people from sharks and, oddly enough, sharks from people. When a beginner swims, we cannot let a shark close to him. And this hand gesture is a kind of stop signal, it indicates the minimum distance that we can bring the shark to a person. And yes, sharks understand this sign: "Okay, I'll sail away, maybe it's not safe." Moreover, if another person who is not familiar with a particular shark extends his hand, we do not guarantee that he will not taste this hand. It's just that each instructor has their own ways of letting the fish know it's time to swim away. For example, I don’t put my hand out - I communicate with the fish with my eyes and I’m absolutely sure: if they see human eyes, they won’t attack for anything, they are too cowardly, although they are curious. Therefore, I do not even know how to answer your question about training. On the one hand, this cannot be called training - we seem to be letting them understand some things at the energy level. And on the other hand, if these repeatedly repeated techniques work, then, apparently, they are elements of training.

  • And how did you end up in the Maldives?

Just because of the sharks. There is a large population of them here, and we are the only Russian-speaking trainers in the world who work with wild "tigers". (Irina calls tiger sharks tigers. Wikipedia says that this is one of the largest species, individual individuals of "tigers" reach five meters in length, and their teeth can even bite through the shell of turtles. - OnAir.)

"Tigers" are divers' favorites, they are very relaxed, imposing, or something, you can freedive with them on your own air or scuba dive. They are very cool. My husband and I have been chasing sharks around the world for several years - we flew away from Moscow almost every two weeks, the routes were compiled in such a way that sharks always lived in the places where we were going. And my first acquaintance with a shark happened like this. During the briefing, the guide told us: “If you see a shark, stay with the group, never sail alone. The shark sees a group of people, for her it is one big object, and she is afraid. And when she sees one person - this is a small object, it can be attacked. And then we saw a shark that was less than a meter in length - now I understand that it was tiny, I came across a whitetip reef shark. But then I was very scared and slowed down. And then all the experienced divers rushed to her. And I realized that I also need to swim to stay in the group.

I saw those eyes - the eyes of a shark. They seem to hypnotize you, the rest of the world fades at such moments. You learn to understand her intentions, to see how scared she is or, on the contrary, curious, how she wants to get to know you better ...

Since then, we have been constantly going on such shark diving. And then they trained and became instructors themselves. The search for "tigers" led us to the Maldivian island of Fuvahmulah. It is very small: 4.5 kilometers by 800 meters. Tourists began to be accepted here only five years ago, and we were among the first. This is the only volcanic island in the Maldives, there is a beach with round small white pebbles, which is very unusual for the archipelago. By the way, the beach is one of the ten most beautiful in the world - it's just incredible!

  • Surely this paradise island for so many years has not bored you - after all, it is quite tiny. What can you do there besides diving?

Our island is considered the richest in the Maldives. Here people are engaged in fishing, tourism, many have their own small resorts, small hotels or dive clubs. We are friends with many locals - they are very relaxed, pleasant people to talk to. They are Muslims, speak the local Dhivehi language, but the vast majority speak English well. Plus, Russian-speaking tourists constantly come, so, believe me, it’s not at all boring here. In addition, this climate suits me perfectly. When one day my husband asked if I was ready to leave Moscow forever, I answered “yes” without hesitation. And literally four days later we flew away. My husband has not been to Russia for five years, and I recently went to an exhibition where we presented our dive club. And you know what? I wore heels for the first time in 10 years. And I thought: “God, how uncomfortable they are! Why do I need them?!” I can't live without water and without sharks. But without heels - I can very much.

  • What you do is called safety shark diving - that is, safe diving with sharks. But it's hard to ignore the terrible news of last summer, when sharks attacked tourists...

We are now visiting guys from Hurghada, who have been running a dive club in the region where the attacks happened for a quarter of a century. They came to swim with the sharks with small children, and today we just dived with the "tigers". And in the process, on land, of course, we talked a lot, discussed the topic of shark attacks. In Egypt, you cannot build hotels on a pontoon - this is when the hotel does not have a sandy beach, but the depth immediately begins. But there are such hotels, and they accept everyone without exception. No one warns anyone that this is the habitat of sharks - their, sharks, home. A house where people constantly come. They come without really knowing the character or habits of sharks. A person dives without a mask, without fins - he just swims for his own pleasure and has absolutely no idea that at some point he may encounter a shark. And there are a lot of sharks in Egypt! There, for example, live long-winged oceanic sharks - longimanus, which eat everything and follow the smell of diesel fuel. These are the very first sharks we have been fortunate enough to study, having spent over 40 weeks with them on a yacht trip. We didn’t even have to look for these sharks - they followed our boat almost all the time. So is it worth swimming or surfing in such places? Believe me, no professional surfer who has been bitten by a shark will ever say that it was her fault. Professionals understand: if something like this happened, the person is to blame. Either he didn’t see the shark, or he swam in the wrong place - in a word, he came to the fish’s house and violated the usual order. And she thought that this man was edible. And he turns out to be inedible. Therefore, the shark will bite off the leg and swim away, and this leg will most likely be spit out along the way. Do you know what human blood smells like? What about fish blood? After all, these are two completely different substances, and human blood is tasteless for a shark. In addition, we are very hot, we have a temperature of 36.6 - for her it is just burning! So she bites and spits out. The only thing is that a tiger shark, for example, has taste buds inside, and, poor thing, it first swallows, and then already feels that it has bitten off the muck. Therefore, the shark will never react to the smell of human blood in its life. They feel a drop of fish blood for a kilometer, but not human.

  • And what can a person do to avoid becoming an accidental victim?

At least ask where he flies to rest. Do not stay in hotels with pontoons, and even more so do not swim there if you do not know anything about local sharks. You can swim with them only in the presence of professionals who know the area, underwater inhabitants and, in which case, they can protect you. Believe me, sharks are far from the most dangerous creatures, and we always warn our tourists about this. For example, the scorpion fish or its relative, the stone fish, look like inconspicuous pebbles and live on every reef. The pain from their bites is just awful. Some are literally paralyzed by it. You can always talk to sharks, tell them: “Stop! Look, I am absolutely not dangerous and not interesting for you. They are just insanely curious creatures and taste everything. But they don't have hands. When a shark does not see a person's eyes, and a person does not see a shark, it will definitely swim up and try - they say, we have some new fish here, how interesting! Well, and so, of course, the number of people affected by sharks still does not compare with the number of deaths in car accidents. Yes, there were five attacks in a year, two of them fatal. But they all happened through the fault of a man who simply did not know where he came. We are preparing for a hike before going to the mountains? And before swimming in an unfamiliar sea, you also need to thoroughly prepare.

  • How safe are sharks themselves? After all, people also often “attack” them ...

When I first came to the Maldivian fish market, there were huge manta rays (these are rays, which are also called sea devils), all kinds of sharks and their fins. But, thank God, in 2012 the catching of manta rays and sharks was banned, and now cases of poaching are rare. Although during the pandemic, for example, 400 kilograms of shark fins were caught here, the poachers were detained, they were given a huge fine and a prison term. Imagine, these people cut out the fins of the fish, they didn’t even kill them - the sharks just slowly died, because they could no longer hunt without fins .... And so one shark in the Maldives brings a million dollars a year thanks to tourism. Therefore, of course, we protect our “tigers” in every possible way.

  • Do you have underwater pets besides sharks?

Oh yeah! Manta rays, dolphins, whales... Dozens of turtles live on our island, which are not at all afraid of people. They can be seen on every dive and even during snorkeling (swimming with a mask and fins. - OnAir). Since Fuvahmulah stands separately in the ocean, all deep-sea living creatures periodically come to us. Everyone who needs to eat, clean, mate - it all happens on our island. So there is nothing surprising in the fact that we are not bored here. Although when I was just learning to dive, my instructor tried to dissuade me: “Ira, in no case do it professionally, otherwise you will lose interest in the underwater world over time.” More than 10 years have passed. What can I say? There is nothing more interesting than this work for me so far.