Wild Tiger Shark ‘Emma’ Reunites With Diver Who Became Her ‘Best Friend’ a Year Later

by Jon D. B.

Love sharks? Chances are you’ve heard of Jim Abernethy and his ‘best friend’, Emma the Tiger Shark. If you haven’t, it changes everything.

I’ll never forget the first time I witnessed Jim Abernethy’s work during my wildlife tech days. A brilliant conservationist, wildlife photographer, and part-time ecotourism guide, Jim’s cinematography has righty added ‘Emmy-winner’ to his resume, too.

To put it plainly, Abernathy’s career and resulting footage completely changed the way I view sharks. I am in no way a marine biologist. I can barely keep a fish tank. My wildlife and behavioral husbandry work has always been firmly (let me stress firmly) rooted in the earth. On land, that is to say. So to see these incredible, hyper-effective predators thrive on interaction with another sentient species was beyond eye-opening. And it’s Jim and his ‘best friend’, Emma the Tiger Shark, that would do this for me.

Over the course of their 20-year relationship, Abernathy and this truly wild animal have formed a remarkable bond; one that has opened the yes of countless others like myself.

Yet like many best friends, however, the COVID-19 Pandemic kept these two apart. What these two missed out on through a year of separation isn’t served well in writing, either. Instead, you have to see it for yourself:

This wild tiger shark, Emma, has been greeting her favorite diver, Jim, for 20 years — and after the pandemic separated them, she was SO excited to see him again

The Dodo

Emma the Tiger Shark Shows the Truth Behind that ‘JAWS’ Facade

“I had absolutely no idea that sharks were affectionate creatures,” Jim tells The Dodo for his latest expose with the outlet (above). “These are, without a doubt, sentient creatures that thrive on affection. Which they’ve never had before!”

This transformative journey began over two decades ago when a shark he would name ‘Captain Ron’ swam close to him with a large hook lodged into his jaw. At this moment, Jim decided he would try to gain this giant tiger shark’s trust so that he could remove the hook. Two hours later, he did exactly that.

Over the course of 20-years of interactions with Emma, Jim has removed four hooks from her maw.

“My relationship with Emma has grown exponentially every time I’ve been able to remove a hook,” Abernathy offers.

And as for that reunion, Jim says “it was as if no time had passed whatsoever.”

Like people, sharks have personalities. Some will be aggressive and horrible. We all know of humans that fit this description. Others, however, will be affectionate, or curious, or “warm-hearted,” as Jim described Emma. While this may make it tempting to seek out our own wild best friends, it better serves as a caution: wild animals, like people, are unpredictable. You never know what you’re going to get – personality or otherwise.

But on the flip side of that coin, it’s also best to remember that sharks, tiger or not, are far more than our Hollywood movies make them out to be. And they just might be, in fact, someone’s best friend.