Oldsmar City Council member Gabby McGee (left) recently participated in a 90-minute free dive with bull sharks off the coast of Jupiter, Florida. (Credit: Gabby McGee/Florida Shark Diving.)
Every summer, millions of Americans huddle around their flat screens and devour every morsel of Shark Week, a cable TV marathon of shark related documentaries, mockumentaries and harrowing accounts of close encounters with the toothy predators of the sea.
And every year around this time, many viewers sit back and say, “that’s no big deal—I could do that!”
Oldsmar City Council member Gabby McGee and her dog, Remi.
But while many people say they’re going to do something daring, Gabby McGee actually does it.
McGee, the Oldsmar City Council member who is no stranger to adventure, recently participated in a 90-minute snorkeling session off the coast of Jupiter, Florida, with dozens of deadly bull sharks swimming just a few meters below her.
The experience terrified yet humbled the 31-year-old, as she came in close contact with some of the most powerful predators on the planet.
“I’ve been skydiving, hiking, hang gliding over Switzerland and climbed some of the world’s most well-known peaks, but that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” McGee told Oldsmar Connect following her experience in early August.
“I am a human being, I’m not Wonder Woman. I was terrified!”
McGee explained she got the idea from following the Instagram account of the official photographer for the Jupiter-based Florida Shark Diving company.
“The pictures are amazing,” she said. “I was like, I can’t believe this is possible. I want to try it!”
A scene from Gabby McGee swimming with bull sharks off the coast of Jupiter, Florida in August 2017. (Credit: Gabby McGee/Florida Shark Diving.)
McGee contacted a fellow adventure lover who lives in the area of the dive company to see if he would join her on her latest conquest.
“At first, he said, “absolutely not!’” she said with a laugh. “But I ended up talking him into it.”
Upon arrival, McGee found out how popular the terrifying activity really is.
“They do two trips a day, seven days a week, and people from all over the world come to do it,” she said, noting guests from the United Kingdom, Prague and New York City were on her trip.
After several attempts to start the boat, they motored for 30 minutes away from the coast before stopping, and suddenly it was time to jump in with nothing but a snorkel and a bathing suit for protection.
Gabby McGee and a diving partner participated in a 90-minute free dive with bull sharks off the coast of Jupiter, Florida in August 2017. (Credit: Gabby McGee/Florida Shark Diving.)
“Before we even get out, we see two bull sharks right under the boat,” she recalled. “We were like, ‘ahhh, okay. This is crazy!’”
As the captain and his crew chummed the water with chunks of tuna and buckets of fish blood, the group jumped in the water and swam along a rope attached to a buoy, which is used to guide the swimmers and provide a tether to the boat.
“The hardest part was getting in,” she said. “I was like, I don’t want to make a splash!”
“I swam to the rope, and I was amazed and terrified inside. There were at least 20 sharks, all bull sharks, and one black tip, plus dozens of other species of fish. It was amazing to know, or hope, they weren’t going to rip you apart.”
(McGee noted the company website states the safety of its divers is guaranteed.)
For the next 90 minutes McGee witnessed dozens of sharks swimming in and out of view, sometimes slowly, other times with sudden, darting movements, always demonstrating what powerful and intelligent creatures they are.
Gabby McGee swimming with bull sharks in August 2017. (Credit: Gabby McGee/Florida Shark Diving.)
“Swimming in the water with something that could kill you if it wanted to, you get a sense of awe and appreciation for these creatures,” she said.
“It is very humbling, for sure.”
After the session was over, McGee felt the full impact of what she had just experienced.
“When they told us it was time to get back in the boat, I raced back and immediately felt nauseous and I puked as soon as I took off my snorkel,” she said.
Gabby McGee enjoying the Trolltunga summit in Norway in April 2016. (Credit: Gabby McGee/Facebook.
“We snorkeled about seven miles thanks to the strong current. I felt like I got hit by a truck!”
Safely back on dry land, McGee, who is headed back to Norway, via Iceland, in a few weeks, was asked if she would ever swim with sharks again.
Her answer was completely expected.
“The courage it took to do this was unlike anything I’ve ever done,” she said, noting, “skydiving and heights are big (challenges) for me, because I’m terrified of falling.”
“When I got to the top of Trolltunga in Norway, I was awestruck and a little scared. This was kind of in between awestruck and pure terror. We were excited and proud of ourselves for doing it.”
“I would do it again,” she said. “But I’d still be completely terrified!”