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'Mermaid' stares down great white shark

13:00 Thu May 10 2012
By Ali Best, MSN NZ

Swimming with four-metre-long great white sharks can be very dangerous. If you're wearing nothing but a giant fish tail and you have no oxygen, it's even more so.

But it's all part of the job for Byron Bay-born Hannah Fraser, a professional mermaid.

Model turns professional mermaid

The 36-year-old has been obsessed with the mythical sea creatures ever since she saw Daryl Hannah in the mermaid film, Splash, when she was nine years old.

Over the past decade Ms Fraser, who was married to well-known surfer Dave Rastovich, has been able to transform her love into a full-time career, even listing "mermaid performance artist" as her occupation on airport immigration forms.

In Sydney today shooting a series of mermaid portraits with photographer Bob Armstrong, Ms Fraser told ninemsn the most memorable day in her waterlogged career was swimming with 4m great white sharks in the middle of open water off Guadalupe Island off Mexico in 2009.

After two weeks of nightmares and sweaty palms, Ms Fraser hopped on board an old boat with a team of scientists and filmmakers.

"I asked 'Who's the doctor on board?' because we're in the middle of nowhere on an old fishing trawler," she told ninemsn.

She was met with the reply: "Um, I think there's a first aid kit on here somewhere."

Determined not to let that deter her despite the fact she was going to be "half naked in a fish suit with no protection", Ms Fraser did a few trial swims with a wetsuit and scuba gear on but said she felt "disconnected" from the sharks.

As she was suiting up in her mermaid tail, Ms Fraser heard a commotion from the back of the boat and discovered a huge great white had become trapped in the boat's safety cage, which was designed to keep sharks out.

"Luckily it managed to escape from [the cage] and then they all looked at me and said, 'Ok are you ready to get in?'", she said.

"I just thought 'this is ludicrous' but somehow I am absolutely ready.

"The scariest point was when there were four sharks around and that’s too many to keep an eye on. A shark turned around and started coming towards me and there was that moment… time slows down and it elongated into an eternal moment.

"And so I started swimming straight at it, screaming at the top of my lungs."

The shark turned and swam away.

"I felt invincible for months after," she said.

Ms Fraser readily admits that with her long, blonde hair and sparkly mermaid tails — which she makes herself by shaping fins and hand-stitching thousands of tiny scales onto fabric — she is breaking all the rules of safe diving.

But her routine of yoga and meditation as well as a firm knowledge of her limits, has kept her from danger so far.

And for Ms Fraser, there is no better feeling than being at one with the ocean.

"It feels like a semi-trance like state to me, where I can really, really relax," she said.

The most recent project for the LA-based mermaid has been a children's book with photographer Michael Muller and his wife, author Kimberly Muller.

The book, entitled 'Last Night I Swam With a Mermaid', aims to teach the younger generation "how we need to protect, respect and not expect from the ocean".