Juan Oliphant is more than just an underwater photographer, his conservation efforts and understanding of shark behavior have made him a leading presence in his field. Juan's primary goal with his work is to create an initiative for a global perception change for one of the most misunderstood species on the planet; sharks. Juan finished his degree in fine art and photography at BYUH in Laie Hawaii, 20 minutes from where he grew up at Chuns reef of North Shore, Oahu. Juan is one of the founders of One Ocean Research and Diving, Water Inspired Conservation Group, and Save The Sea Turtles International Non-Profit. He grew up surfing the north shore and got into diving as a way to heal his back after an accident left him paralyzed.
After learning to walk again and slowly regaining his strength after multiple surgeries his doctor advised him to take a break from surfing but Juan grew up in the ocean and couldn't stay away. He took up diving regularly and quickly became a dive master and traveled the world with Sea Shepard to help combat illegal fishing and whaling in 1999. It was during the Shark Water campaign the Galapagos and Cocos that he truly encountered sharks (hundreds of schooling hammerheads) for the first time in a way that would change his view of the animals forever. From then on he began purposely diving with sharks on a regular basis and has worked with them year-round ever since. He co-founded Water inspired and One Ocean Diving and uses his photography to help inspire others to care about the underwater world and marine life, especially sharks. Juan grew up with a fear of sharks like the majority of the people on the planet and surfers of his time seeing a shark was initially not something he ever thought he would want to see, but once he was able to put a mask and fins on and experience how incredible they really are his whole perception changed, his whole life changed, and now he is fighting daily to help save their lives. As Juan likes to say,
“Photography is a tool, its the way I can speak up for them, a photo is worth more than a thousand words in every language, I try to capture as much feeling and evoke as much emotion as I try to evoke people to ask questions. I want to capture and share moments that start a conversation about the animals and the connection and relationship we have with them. I use my time, talents, and work around the world to help change people’s fear of sharks into fascination and respect. I hope my images inspire you to take another look, questions perceptions and join me to be the change to help save sharks and the ocean.”
When people simply see a photo of a shark most just assume it's on its way to its next meal and it doesn’t tend to do much in terms of changing perceptions or conveying a conservation message. Photographs can play a role in that as an image transcends language barriers and immediately communicates a message that can be understood by anyone. Sharks do not see humans as a food source and we can coexist. Showing the world peaceful interactions with sharks are possible with the right training and experience can go a long way towards building support among the general public for their protection. People protect what they love, and love only what they understand which is an issue in the context of shark conservation as very few people have had the privilege of actually getting in the water and seeing them firsthand.
You can follow Juan’s work and join him in the water to learn about sharks firsthand by booking at oneoceandiving.com