'Shark whisperer' calls for shark conservation

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Cristina Zenato, one of the few " shark whisperers" in the world who have the ability to induce " tonic immobility" of sharks, a very special hypnosis state of sharks, has came to Singapore to promote shark conservation on Wednesday.

Shark conservationist Cristina Zenato attends the shark conservation activity "SEAA Wonders: Sharks" in Singapore's Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) S.E.A. Aquarium on Aug. 6, 2014. [Photo/Xinhua]

With just a touch on head and face, Zenato can lead these dreadful man-eaters into a state of paralysis for an average of 15 minutes before it comes round. For visitors, it seems that the sharks are falling asleep right in her lap.

Born in Italy and grew up in the African rain forests until she was 15, Zenato said she found her talent just "by chance."

"We were working in the natural environment feeding the sharks, and the sharks came close and basically it was an instinct to push the sharks away, and instead of swimming away, some sharks just stopped in my hand." Zenato recalled. It was since then she started experimenting the skill and finally mastered it.

Zenato said there are only "a dozen" shark whisperers like her in the world. Since the discovery of such phenomenon, scientists have been using it to study shark behavior, which is what Zenato has been doing these years. She assists with the collection of DNA samples, and other vital data, check for parasites as well as to remove fishing hooks from these so-called "sea wolves."

Despite their fierce look, sharks, the ancient creatures which are as old as dinosaur, is declining sharply in number. A report released by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2013 showed that global demand spurs the killing of up to 100 million sharks every year. The popularity of shark fin soup has decimated global shark populations by 90 percent or more the in the last 50 years.

To save the sharks has become an urgent global issue, and that' s also the reason Zenato came to Singapore. From Aug. 7 to 9, Zenato will interact with more than 100 sharks in the Shark Seas Habitat in Resort World Sentosa's S.E.A Aquarium, to raise awareness about the urgent need to conserve sharks in one of the highest per capita shark fin soup consuming country in the world. She will also try her famous "tonic immobility" skill as part of the mission to dispel the widespread negative perception about the species as terrifying man-eating monsters.

"One of the first few steps we need to make in order to save sharks, is to change the widespread negative perception people have of them," She said. "We need to educate, raise awareness, help people transit from fear to curiosity, and from that to acceptance and hopefully, healthy respect and adoration."

Though well-known for her unique talent, Zenato admitted that she can't guarantee a success every time she tried to hypnotize these animals.

"Sharks also have personality," Zenato said, "there're sharks that just don't come for feed..there're shy sharks, and there're smart ones, a little bit like humans."

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