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Valerie Taylor (diver)

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Valerie May Taylor
Valerie May Heighes

(1935-11-09) 9 November 1935 (age 88)
Sydney, Australia
Occupation(s)Professional diver, underwater photographer and cinematographer, author/illustrator
(m. 1963; died 2012)

Valerie May Taylor AM (born 9 November 1935) is an Australian conservationist, photographer, and filmmaker, and an inaugural member of the diving hall of fame. With her husband Ron Taylor, she made documentaries about sharks, and filmed sequences for films including Jaws (1975).

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Paddington, Sydney on 9 November 1935,[1] Valerie May Taylor spent her early years in Sydney. Her mother was a housewife and her father an engineer for Exide Batteries. The family moved to New Zealand in 1939 to set up a battery factory there, but were unable to return to Australia when WWII broke out.[2] At 12 years of age Taylor contracted polio during the 1948 polio epidemic. Isolated from her family, friends and schooling she slowly recovered with the support of the "Sister Kenny Treatment and Rehabilitation Method". Taylor fell behind in her studies and left school at 15 years of age to work for the NZ Film Unit drawing for an animation studio.[2]

Taylor returned to Sydney with her family to settle in the beachside suburb of Port Hacking, where she started diving in 1956 and took up spearfishing in 1960 to provide food for the family. She became an Australian champion scuba and spearfisher and met her future husband, Ron Taylor, at the St George's Spearfishing Club.[3][4][5]


In 1967 a Belgian scientific expedition asked the Taylors' to join their endeavour to record life on the Great Barrier Reef. Over several months, Valerie dove the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef from Lady Elliot Island up to the Torres Strait.[6] Taylor and her husband made documentary films about sharks,[7] and were the first people to film great white sharks without the protection of a cage in 1992. Their work also included Blue Water, White Death, in which they swam cageless among a school of oceanic whitetip sharks feeding on a whale carcass.[8] The documentary was successful, and attracted the attention of Steven Spielberg, who called on them to shoot the real great white shark sequences for Jaws.[citation needed]

In addition to their work in film, the Taylors have performed conservation work in Australia and elsewhere. They have campaigned to prevent oil exploration in Ningaloo Marine Park, the overturning of mining rights on Coral Sea Islands, the protection of the Great Barrier Reef prior to its being awarded World Heritage status, and they lobbied for marine sanctuary zones in South Australia.[9][10]

Taylor worked as an underwater photographer, with some of her work appearing in National Geographic magazine. In 1973, some macro images of coral and invertebrates on the Great Barrier Reef were featured on its front cover.[11]

During the early 1980s Taylor began experiments with sharks wearing a steel mesh suit. The 1981 front cover of National Geographic magazine featured Taylor, off the coast of California, during one of these experiments with blue sharks wearing a chainmail suit.[12]

Taylor remained active in lobbying in favour of marine conservation into the 21st century.[13] She campaigned against ocean plastic pollution overfishing.[14]

In 2014, Taylor campaigned against an Opposition Bill to remove sanctuary zones from marine parks in South Australia.[15][16]

Recognition and awards[edit]

In 1981 Taylor was awarded the NOGI award for Arts, Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences, presented by the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences (AUAS).[17]

In 1986, Taylor was appointed by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, the Rider of the Order of the Golden Ark for marine conservation. She was recognised for her successful efforts protecting of the habitat of the potato cod near Lizard Island, Queensland – the first gazetted protection of the Great Barrier Reef.[18]

She was awarded the 1997 American Nature Photographer of the year award for a picture of a whale shark swimming with her nephew in Ningaloo Marine Park. By 2000 she was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame.[19]

In 2001, she was awarded the Serventy Conservation Medal for her work with Ron Taylor in promoting a greater understanding of the Great Barrier Reef and the need to protect its wildlife.

At 66 years old she was still diving with sharks, and was awarded the Centenary Medal for service to Australian society in marine conservation and the Australian Senior Achiever of the Year.[20]

In 2008 Taylor received the Australian Geographic Lifetime of Conservation award.[21]

In 2010 Taylor was made a Member of the Order of Australia For service to conservation and the environment as an advocate for the protection and preservation of marine wildlife and habitats, particularly the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef, and as an underwater cinematographer and photographer.[20]

In 2021 a feature-length documentary film featuring archival footage as well as Taylor's life as an 85-year-old was made by Australian filmmaker Sally Aitken, called Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story. The film screened at the Sundance Film Festival.[22][23]

Personal awards[edit]

Awards won with Ron[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Taylor married Ron Taylor in December 1963,[36] and they worked and lived together until his death from leukemia in 2012.[37]


She has illustrated and written a children's colouring book, The Undersea Artistry (2017)[38] and published her memoirs in 2019, titled An Adventurous Life.[14]

Film and television credits[edit]


Documentaries in which Taylor was involved in the production include:

Feature fiction films[edit]

Television credits[edit]


  1. ^ "Talking Heads – Ron and Valerie Taylor". archive.ph. 3 December 2012. Archived from the original on 31 December 2012. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Dapin, Mark (9 March 2018). "'The average person would have died in the first week': shark expert Valerie Taylor". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  3. ^ Hart, Anna (2 June 2015). "The most glamorous shark hunter in the world". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  4. ^ "AUF Spearfishing Championship Trophies". docs.google.com. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  5. ^ "Ron Taylor - NOGI". Archived from the original on 20 November 2008. Retrieved 2 March 2009.
  6. ^ Taylor, Valerie; Borschmann, Gregg (1996). "Valerie Taylor interviewed by Gregg Borschmann in the Environmental awareness in Australia oral history project". Environmental Awareness in Australia Oral History Project.
  7. ^ a b c "Ron and Valerie Taylor and their quest to protect". Australian National Maritime Museum. Archived from the original on 15 November 2019. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  8. ^ "Valerie Taylor". The Australian Women's Weekly. 1 February 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2023 – via PressReader.
  9. ^ a b "Shark expert honoured for conservation". The Sydney Morning Herald. 1 June 2010. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  10. ^ "Shark expert Taylor in one-woman marine park protest". www.adelaidenow.com.au. 2 August 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  11. ^ "Kara Rosenlund – Valerie Taylor – Behind the Scenes". Kara Rosenlund. 26 October 2018. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  12. ^ "First shark observation suit". Diving Almanac & Book of Records. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  13. ^ "Conservationist protests SA marine park changes". ABC News. 2 August 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  14. ^ a b "Valerie Taylor: An Adventurous Life: The remarkable story of the trailblazing ocean conservationist, photographer and shark expert by Ben Mckelvey". Hachette Australia. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  15. ^ Shark expert Valerie Taylor visits SA to campaign against changes to marine parks laws Archived 28 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine, The Advertiser, 28 August 2014. Accessed 29 August 2014.
  16. ^ Conservationist Valerie Taylor urges MPs to block SA marine park changes Archived 28 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine, ABC News, 28 August 2014. Accessed 29 August 2014.
  17. ^ a b "Photograph depicting Valerie Taylor holding a fish". collections.anmm.gov.au. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  18. ^ a b "Papua New Guinean shark propeller used by Ron and Valerie Taylor". collections.anmm.gov.au. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  19. ^ "Taylor, Valerie". Diving Almanac & Book of Records. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  20. ^ a b c d "Valerie Taylor OAM". Australian Geographic. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  21. ^ a b "Valerie Taylor – Shark lady and dead set Aussie legend". Australian Geographic. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  22. ^ Stacie Passon on (29 January 2021). ""The Natural World and Our Interconnectedness": Director Sally Aitken". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 4 February 2024.
  23. ^ "Australian documentary shines light on Valerie Taylor, deep sea diver who swam with sharks". ABC. 7 February 2021. Retrieved 2 June 2021.
  24. ^ "SSI PROFESSIONAL RECOGNITION". www.divessi.com. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  25. ^ "Serventy Conservation Award" (PDF). Australian Wildlife Society.
  26. ^ "2021 Special Jury Recognition". Jackson Wild: Nature. Media. Impact. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  27. ^ 'AG Society Adventure Awards', 'http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/society/adventure-awards-ag-society.htm Archived 11 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 30 September 2012
  28. ^ 'Taylor, Valerie, 1998, 'Testing the Shark POD', [1] Archived 27 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  29. ^ ' Ron & Valerie Taylor', http://www.scubahalloffame.com/hallmembers/2000/ronvalerietaylor.html Archived 15 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 30 September 2012
  30. ^ 'WPSA Serventy Conservation Medal',[2] Archived 2 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 25 September 2012.
  31. ^ '2008 AG Society awards wrap', [3] Archived 26 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 25 September 2012.
  32. ^ 'Ron Taylor AM ACS & Valerie Taylor AM', http://www.cinematographer.org.au/cms/page.asp?ID=20179 Archived 14 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 30 September 2012.
  33. ^ "About us". St George Spearfishing and Freediving Club. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 28 October 2012.
  34. ^ "South Australian Marine Parks take effect today" (PDF). South Australian Government. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  35. ^ "Neptune Islands Group (Ron and Valerie Taylor) Marine Park". SA Department of Environment, Water & Natural Resources. Archived from the original on 19 December 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  36. ^ Kennett, Joan; 'Underwater Romance', The Australian Women's Weekly, Wednesday 5 February 1964, pages 2 and 3, [4], retrieved 24 September 2012.
  37. ^ "Jaws shark cameraman Ron Taylor dies". The Guardian. Associated Press. 1 September 2012. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  38. ^ Taylor, Valerie (2017). The Undersea Artistry of Valerie Taylor: A Colouring Book Featuring Original Illustrations. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1977571144.
  39. ^ HARDING, JOHN H. (1 October 2009). "RON TAYLOR'S "Slaughter at Saumarez" (1964) 360P". John Harding. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  40. ^ "Shark Savers :: A tribute to Ron Taylor". www.sharksavers.org. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  41. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Valerie Taylor". IMDb. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  42. ^ Australia, National Film and Sound Archive of (1 November 2019). "Will The Great Barrier Reef Cure Claude Clough?". www.nfsa.gov.au. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  43. ^ Harding, John H. (7 July 2012). "The Coral Sea: No.10 'THE BELGIAN EXPEDITION to the GBR' (1967)". The Coral Sea. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
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  46. ^ "The Reef – Review – Photos – Ozmovies". www.ozmovies.com.au. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
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  50. ^ "Shark POD (1997) – The Screen Guide". Screen Australia. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
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External links[edit]