When 9-year-old South African Ella Addison was five years old, her mother forbade her to even get on the boat with her father, who runs a shark-diving business.
It wasn’t because she feared Ella might be frightened by the sight of her dad, Mark, plunging into shark-infested waters without the protection of a cage. It was because she knew Ella would jump in right behind him.Video: Meet the 9-year-old who swims with sharks (on this page)
Ella had begged to accompany her father on a dive, and her mother knew she would go stir-crazy with anticipation if she had to sit on the boat and watch.
However, in a “don’t tell mom!’’ moment, Mark allowed his precocious tyke to join him underwater amidst the swirling predators. Ella did great. Then came the hardest part — telling mom.
“I don't think the danger was in the water,’’ Mark joked during an interview alongside Ella and his wife with TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie on Monday. “That day it was sitting on the beach while we were out back.’’
“They begged and begged, and only when they got home did it come up,’’ Gail said.Video: Dolphin joins surfers at Calif.'s "wedge"
The family owns and operates Blue Wilderness, a South African aquatic expedition company that takes visitors out to dive, cage-free, with great whites, makos and bull sharks. Ella, who took her first shark dive at age 5, is now a 9-year-old who rides horses and is on the swim team. Swimming unprotected among 2,000-pound sharks is just another of her activities.
“The first time I got in I was (scared), but then I felt fine ever since,’’ Ella said.
Most parents wouldn't let their child anywhere near a mass of potentially lethal sharks, but Mark insisted it's safe.
“I think cages spread fear, not understanding,’’ Mark said. “We've spent most of the best part of our lives trying to understand these animals better, so I feel confident without cages is simply the way forward. I have implicit faith in the animals and obviously with certain controls and protocols in place, it's definitely safe to interact with these animals.’’
Mark even admitted that growing up he was told 10 years old was at least the minimum age to attempt getting in the water in that type of situation, but Ella showed otherwise.
“She proved us all wrong that at that age it’s possible,’’ he said. And, said Mark, Ella's even gotten some life lessons.
“It definitely teaches discipline because you don't get a second chance to say 'Oh sorry Mom I shouldn't have done this,’ so the instruction has to be followed the first time. You also have your child's undivided attention, so it is wonderful.’’
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