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Scuba diving with sharks inspires and motivates popular marine artist David Dunleavy

(DiverWire) David Dunleavy was only five years old when he and his older brother snuck into the movies to watch the classic shark tale, “Jaws”. While the movie single-handedly scared a generation of people out of the water, the film had the exact opposite effect on young Mr. Dunleavy – he’s likely one of the only people who can claim that “Jaws” scared him INTO the water!

“It was my first major ‘inspiration’,” the well-known marine artist recalls. “Every summer I would be in the water or near the water.” Growing up near the Jersey Shore – fishing and spending time boating with family, his taste for all things aquatic would serve him well as he refined his artistic talents. His passion for wildlife inspired him to create many early pencil and watercolor fish and whitetail deer pieces that were the result of his exploring the Pennsylvania woods and the Jersey shore.

Unfortunately, Dunleavy wasn’t able to scuba dive until much later in life. “As a kid, I was diagnosed as someone who would never be able to dive because of inner ear problems.” Thankfully, that changed later on. In 1995, Dunleavy painted his first international Endangered Species Murals at Walker’s Cay Bahamas where he had the unique opportunity to overcome his physical challenges and enter the underwater world. Once he did, everything changed. “It took nearly two weeks to clear my ears, they hurt, but I forced myself to do it and I’m glad that I did.”

While at Walker’s Cay, David was introduced to sharks by well-known shark wrangler Gary Atkinson. But “introduced” might be too soft a word. David Dunleavy was thrust into the midst of the shark world – literally. “It was my first scuba diving experience,” he recalls. “They put me right in the middle of a shark rodeo with well over 120 sharks from bulls, black tips, spinners, nurse and Caribbean reef sharks. I remember being so close that I could hear the sharks breaking their teeth on the frozen chumcicle as they chewed it up”.

That inspiration has kept Dunleavy’s creative juices flowing for the last 16 years. He’s painted dozens of shark images including Shark Rodeo, Creature Feature, Feeding Inferno and Rincon. To many in the dive industry, Dunleavy’s sharks are “THE” artistic image of the endangered underwater predators.

“It pumps me up when I see a shark in the wild,” he reveals. “It’s a beautiful apex predator and when I’m near one, it takes me back to when I was five years old.” Dunleavy has no problem ‘capturing’ underwater images. He claims he has a ‘photographic’ memory.

“When I’m diving, it’s like I’m ‘videotaping in my mind’s eye to later go back to the studio to recreate all the beauty I see’,” he explains. “As I watch the variety of creatures, it’s like a constant painting unfolding in front of me. I can see what a future image is going to look like and that is what I reproduce when I paint.”

While he has traveled and dived all over the world, Dunleavy has a particular passion for Hawaii where he encountered sea turtles, sharks, whales and other creatures. “It’s where the ‘nature Gods’ are at their best,” is how he describes the islands. Dunleavy greatest dive to date was the Galapagos and his time on the Galapagos Aggressor. “Galapagos is an underwater Disney World and at one point we must have been surrounded by a thousand hammerheads, hundreds of silky sharks and several 40 foot whale sharks – a once in a lifetime experience.”

Dunleavy’s art carries a strong aquatic message – the world’s oceans are in danger. “The human race must work together to preserve it and we must change our course before it’s too late.” To that end, one of Dunleavy’s goals is to complete over 100 Endangered Species Murals worldwide by the year 2026.

To date Dunleavy has completed 57 monumental, life-sized and larger than life murals depicting whales, whale sharks, marlins, sea turtles, birds, bears and other marine wildlife. These “Endangered Species Murals” serve as a gateway to environmental learning and are helping reshape public awareness about preservation and conservation.


His images have been immortalized on numerous limited edition art prints, products and most recently, the expanding David Dunleavy sportswear collection, which provides divers and non-divers alike an opportunity to own one of David’s artistic visions.

David Dunleavy and Jean-Michel Cousteau

As satisfying as it is to regularly capture and develop new artistic creations, Dunleavy is passionate about giving back to the community and providing a level of education to future generations. Dunleavy is in partnership with The Oceans For Youth Foundation and his children’s interactive arts program is active in teaching students to become aware and informed stewards with an appreciation for our ocean planet. “One of our missions is to pass on educational material to children as they are painting with me and teach them about positive solutions that could help protect our ocean planet for future generations,” he explains. “Through art, education, life size and larger than life public wall murals, we are able to spread my dream of a healthy ocean planet to millions worldwide.”

For more details about David Dunleavy and the David Dunleavy Collection, go to

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