By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
Updated August 19, 2013 12:00 PM

From the safety of a dive cage, Ocean Ramsey (yes, that’s the name her parents gave her) spent years studying sharks – “getting a feel for their body language.” Then, in 2008, she swam unprotected alongside the creatures that had fascinated her growing up in Hawaii and San Diego. “To touch them was breathtaking,” says Ramsey, 27. “One of the most beautiful moments of my life.”

And now it’s her life’s work: She wants the photos and videos of her mesmerizing encounters to save sharks, which are killed at a rate of 100 million a year. One video of her being towed on a great white’s fin has been seen over 2 million times on YouTube, and Ramsey, a scuba guide by day, says she has raised several thousand dollars for conservation groups through her website. New Zealand biologist Chris von Roy says Ramsey is key to their cause: “We aim to rebrand sharks and spotlight their plight. What she is doing is miraculous.”

Not least because in her dozens of swims Ramsey hasn’t had a single bite or near-miss. “Sharks are not mindless man-eating machines. They are quite shy.” Still, don’t try this at home: “I’ve built up to this. For an average person to just jump in wouldn’t be wise.”