My best friend is a 15ft tiger shark named Emma – I know she could kill me but really she's just like a loving Labrador | The Sun

A DIVER who is best friends with a huge 15ft tiger shark that could attack at any moment says she is really just a big softie.

Jim Abernethy, from Palm Beach Florida, has spent most of his life swimming with the top ten most dangerous shark species and says heโ€™s never encountered an aggressive one yet.ย 

But ever since meeting Emma in 2001 when he removed a fishing hook from her mouth, the pair have formed a very special bond that has lasted over two decades.

The underwater photographer and diver says tiger shark Emma is just like a loveable "Labrador" who loves to bump noses with Jim as soon as he jumps in the water at Tiger Beach.

Emma and Jim use hand signals to communicate and one of her favourite things is to get a head rub from her best pal.

He affectionately calls The 15-footer his "supermodel" and claims she is one of the most photographed sharks in the world.


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Talking exclusively to The Sun, Jim said: "She's basically the labrador retriever that comes in and sits on the couch, completely chilled and relaxed.

"What makes Emma so special is one, 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.

"But you're in the water for a short amount of time before realising she is so loving and affectionate.

"They [sharks] are not mindless man-eating monsters in fact they are sentient creatures just like cats and dogs.

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"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.

"To get a really good selfie you put the camera in your left hand and your arm straight across her mouth, that's a lot of trust."

What makes Emma so special is one, 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.

Over the years Jim has removed five fishing hooks from Emma's mouth as well as monitoring her behaviour through ten pregnancies.

He says despite the pain and bleeding that sometimes comes with hook removal his best mate has never shown any aggression towards him.

To this day, she still swims regularly under Jim's boat to meet up with him when he heads out for a dive.

Jim hopes to change people's perceptions of sharks through his conservation work and shares pictures and videos of other sharks he encounters.

The diver has pulled hundreds of hooks from shark's mouths and has adapted the use of hand signals in order to gain the predator's trust and get close to their mouths.

He said: "When the shark that I want to help comes in, what I instinctively do is I rub my thumb to my fingertips which is a signal that means, 'do you want your head rubbed?'."

"When the shark comes in, I rub the head and they get trained on this signal.

"At first they're afraid but very quickly they realise that it felt good and then they come back, and after a short amount of time, they actually slow down when they see the signal.ย 

"While I'm rubbing their head I let them keep going all the way to the right up to my head and the jaw is right in front of me and I look for the hook."

Jim removed his first hook from the mouth of a one-eyed lemon shark that he affectionately dubbed Captain Ron.

From that moment he knew he wanted to "make friends" with more sharks so he could get as close as possible.

He added: "It's not terrifying at all, it's quite beautiful.

"Like dogs, there are some that are shy and some that are going to be friendly."

However, Jim says conditions have to be right when entering the water with sharks and Tiger Beach is the perfect spot with shallow crystal clear waters.

He revealed some of the dangerous circumstances that can lead to a shark attack – specifically staying away from fishing activity.

Jim said: "A fishing pier is a 24-hour buffet for sharks, if the shark is under the impression that you are food there is nothing you or any lifeguard can do to stop that shark.

"All they can do is rescue after the incident.

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"It's more important to look at your circumstances and remember that sharks don't read warning signs.

"Never go near anyone that is fishing. If the water is murky don't go in."

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