Bear Grylls is synonymous with superhuman strength, endurance and stamina. Here, he talks about Shark Week, conservation of wildlife, his fears, the death-defying situations he’s had to face and more…
Q People look at you as a fearless man, although everyone has their own fears or phobias. What’s your definition of fear and what’s your worst nightmare?
Trust me, we all have these niggling fears…. when I was serving with the military I fractured T8, T10 & T12 vertebrae in a freefall parachuting accident in southern Africa, and ever since then I will always feel that fear when I’m about to jump or parachute during filming.
But there is also always that hand on my shoulder, from one of our crew, knowing it is hard for me but encouraging me to face the fear once more. You have to face fears head-on, and understand that fear is there to sharpen us. Time, experience and a whole bunch of narrow escapes, has taught me that the best way over our fears is not to run from them, but to face them and to go right through the middle of them.
Q What’s a common day in your life? Aren’t you afraid of waking up one morning without any new challenge to face or purpose?
I think as humans we are at our best when we have a goal and I have always tried to have clear goals and things to aim for. I have failed so many times but that’s OK. It’s about that relentless pursuit and that spirit of endeavour and never giving up. Those things have become habits for me nowadays but it is the friendships along the way that help and motivate me the most. I never take those for granted.
I start every day with a raw veg and fruit smoothie with loads of ginger and then a short sharp outdoor body weight workout for 30mins. Then I hit the day. I also try and make time for a short “quiet time” where I read a bit of one of the epic bible stories and that always helps keep me centred and aware of where my help comes from.
Q Of all the things you’ve done in your programs, what has been the toughest one to do and what has been the most fun?
There have been a bunch of near scrapes over the years, from parachute failures to being bitten by snakes or pinned in white water. Crevasses and salt water crocs are the big ones to watch out for as they are indiscriminate. The toughest place was Siberia in winter where trying to stay alive in -40 is tough. The best are the running wild shoots with some incredible guests that I get to bring along for adventures.
Q What can we expect from Bear vs Shark? How close do you get to them?
Super close and without a cage — that was the goal! It was such a privilege though to get to study some of the biggest and most majestic sharks off the Bermuda Triangle. I wanted to see how I faired when the sharks have the home field advantage and how we can protect ourselves should you ever find yourself alone and stranded at sea and exposed to a potential shark attack. It really was totally awe-inspiring to be out there alongside these wonderful creatures and feel the sheer size of them up close, and we have such a responsibility to protect them.
With the support of local shark conservationists we tagged a tiger shark with a tracking unit. The device serves to provide crucial life saving data to understand where they are moving to, their behaviour, their patterns and what they need to survive. Visit Discovery online and see with your own eyes where the tiger shark in the show has travelled to and where she is now. You can also explore some of the important data we’ve collect in an effort to protect these incredible creatures.
The big lesson though if you are in the water with aggressive sharks is to stay calm and not show fear. They can detect it almost as strongly as blood in the water.
Q Is it possible, for humans not to fear sharks, but for their fascination and love for sharks to grow larger?
Absolutely, this is what we are aiming to do at our Bear Grylls Adventure Park when it opens in autumn in the UK. It is often the things we know little about, that we fear the most! Through our responsible aquarium and dive experience we can have a really positive impact on engaging and educating people and raising awareness on the issues surrounding shark conservation.
As you may be aware, the primary challenge in shark conservation is to try to end overfishing — tragically this means humans kill over 100 million of these remarkable creatures every year. By working with The Shark Trust at our Bear Grylls Adventure we can educate and raise awareness on these issues. A percentage of each dive ticket purchased, will go towards The Shark Trust and their efforts to research shark habitats and safeguard their future.
Q On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate this kind of danger compared to other dangerous situations you came across in your life?
Yes, for sure there have been a few near misses in my lifetime! Anytime you are exposed to Mother Nature and wildlife, the unpredictable can happen and it brings with it significant risks to consider and mitigate. However it’s my job to try and navigate safely around the dangerous situations — it’s all about being prepared for the unexpected
Q How passionately do you feel about wanting us to learn more from sharks and how dangerous / harmless they are to us?
We have a duty to protect the sharks and our responsible aquarium at the Bear Grylls Adventure presents a unique opportunity for global audiences to become truly immersed in an ocean environment, engaging, informing and inspiring them about the marine life. Taking the audiences from observation to experience will generate a heightened awareness of the animals and their environment. This first hand touch point is hugely valuable in our mission to educate generations.
Q Shark Week has become a true global phenomenon. Were you a fan of the event prior to becoming involved? What’s your take on joining in the fun?
I’ve always been a big fan of Shark Week; it’s broadcast in over 72 countries and is a great platform to promote efforts in shark conservation, it’s doing a fantastic job getting people around the world interested in the magnificent shark species. It was a total honour to help host Shark Week and understand more about these animals’ behaviour.
Coming back to tiger sharks, preliminary research has revealed that tiger sharks can migrate over 4,000 miles each year, and is providing important clues in solving the mysteries of where tiger sharks migrate, give birth and raise their young.
Q You’re in the water with Hammerheads, Bull Sharks and a Tiger Shark and remain calm throughout. Did you have any close encounters or were there any moments that got your heart racing a little?
Yes, of course, I am only human! I have learnt though, through experience, to do my utmost to hold my nerve and to stay calm in these situations. Animals are incredibly astute and can sense fear a mile away. The bulk shark dive with no cage at dusk in murky waters was probably the sketchiest moment!
Q We’re so used to seeing you in high adrenaline survival situations, but for a large part of this challenge you needed to be focused on staying incredibly calm when in the sharks’ domain. How did you prepare for this project and in what ways did this preparation differ from other challenges you’ve undertaken?
There was a lot of mental preparation going into this but key to it all was the ability to stay calm — often panic can take over when we are in the face of real danger, but you have to learn to resist that.
Q What was your favourite moment during your shark encounter and how did it change the way you view or feel about sharks?
Working with the local conservationists to tag the tiger shark with a tracking device was a special moment for myself and the team. There was a huge sense of care, purpose and focus that went into ensuring it was done safely and well. For every little bit we can do towards gathering data and understanding shark patterns and behaviour, the better chance we have of protecting this amazing species.
Q Is there anything else you would like to try now?
I have a huge bucket list and it seems to keep on growing! I would still love to do some of the unclimbed peaks in Greenland— there are such huge expanses of genuine wilderness, totally unexplored and a sense of awe that is hard to describe. I’ve also always promised I would take my family to the Everest basecamp one day to show them the mountain. To share that with them would be very special.
Courtesy Discovery Channel