Meet Taylor Cunningham. She is a Marine Biologist who spends time diving with sharks!
Sam: How did you begin freediving?
Taylor Cunningham: I grew up as a competitive swimmer and always had an affinity for the ocean. My family always spent some time out of the year on the island of Kauai, so I think I really started freediving before I knew that was what it was called. My dad would always dive down to check out animals hiding under the coral and I wanted to do the same. He was the one that taught me how to equalize and essentially start freediving.
When I was in high school I injured my shoulder, which prevented me from completing practices the same way I did pre-injury. I had to find other ways to strengthen my swimming without stressing out my shoulder so I turned to hypoxic training aka breath hold training.
My first official introduction to freediving was when I first interned with One Ocean and I fell in love with it immediately. I always say I was “YouTube certified” for the first year or so of diving. I didn’t end up taking an actual FII course until after I started working with One Ocean permanently. Freediving is by far one of the things I recommend every ocean-lover to consider.
Sam: So, were you always comfortable underwater or did you gradually get better with experience?
Taylor Cunningham: I think that because I grew up in Florida, where it was an important safety aspect to teach your kid to swim at an extremely young age, that I have always had comfort in the water. I could swim, or at least float, before I could walk. Although I have always felt a sense of ease in the ocean, as I’ve gotten older I have improved my confidence in diving. A lot of that increase in confidence comes from gaining new experiences in the water and learning from them.
Sam: What type of feeling does diving with ocean life give you?
Taylor Cunningham: When it comes to diving with sharks I have always loved the focus required. You must be 100% aware of everything that is going on in the water for your safety and that of others. There is no time to worry about anything else going on above the surface. Diving has always been a sort of escape from the “real” world.
A lot of people assume that diving with sharks is a major adrenaline rush. However, it is honestly one of the most peaceful things I’ve experienced.
Sam: What’s been your most memorable experience?
Taylor Cunningham: I am so lucky to have a ton of memories pop into my head when I get this question! Most of my most memorable shark dives include tiger sharks. Simply because they are my favorites and I have a few favorite individuals that make certain dives more special.
The Big Island of Hawaii will always have a special place in my heart. Some of my most incredible wildlife interactions have happened off the Kona coast. I will never forget my first pilot whales and Oceanic whitetip. I have also had some incredibly memorable moments in the water there with wildlife that has chosen to interact with me.
Sam: Naturally, you are involved with conservation of marine life. How do you recommend people to get involved?
Taylor Cunningham: The great thing about conservation is you don’t need any previous experience to get involved! All you need is a passion for marine life and want to help the ocean! My biggest advice is to do whatever you can. Not everyone is as lucky to have access to direct conservation efforts, so do whatever you can even if it is from afar.
Donate to conservation organizations. Sign petitions and join campaigns that help support conservation efforts. Volunteer your time in person if possible. Educate yourself on issues facing the ocean and planet. Vote for efforts to protect the planet.
If you are looking for petitions to sign I have a long list on my website.
Sam: Great! Thank you for sharing your story, where can people follow & find you?
Taylor Cunningham: You can read more about my experiences, advice, and conservation efforts on my website/blog.
Follow along on my YouTube channel TaylorKSea Diving. I share a ton of pics and shark info on my Instagram @taylork.sea, for more fun shark safety and other videos you can follow me on Tik Tok @taylork.sea!
Disclaimer: All Photos Provided Courtesy & Authorized by Taylor Cunningham. Potential minor edits for transcript's length, flow, grammatical/formatting.
NEXT: If you enjoyed this, please read our interview with Olympic Silver Medalist in Gymnastics Samantha Peszek