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Yes, that's a 4-metre great white shark next to Chris Fallows' paddle-board.

But he doesn't need the warning we're giving him - he knows the huge predator is there, and he's not worried ... well, not too worried.

While filming a documentary for the Discovery Channel in December last year, the South African predator expert paddled out to the great white off Cape Town to show that sharks are normally docile creatures.

"It's very easy to tell people, but it's a different thing to show people and there's no better way than to lead by example," he said.

The biggest great white he has met was almost 5m, seen while he was free-diving, also off the Cape Town coast.

"It's always exciting, but you never lose respect for the animal and you certainly know the capabilities of the animal," he told the Herald last night.

"Obviously when you are that close to a predator, your heart flutters a little bit quicker, but I know these animals aren't out there to attack us."

Despite sharks' image in movies and popular culture, the 38-year-old Mr Fallows believes they are misunderstood gentle creatures of little danger to humans.

"Obviously they're something you don't treat light-heartedly, but it's a common myth that these animals are going to come rush at you and attack at any time," he said.

Mr Fallows runs diving and shark-spotting trips off Cape Town to show people that sharks do not regard people as food.

"When you work with great white sharks, or any predator for that matter, you begin to realise that they're certainly not out there trying to eat us. In most instances, they go to great lengths to avoid us.

"Sure, there are shark attacks once in a while, but compared to how many times they're among humans it's incredibly rare."

Mr Fallows began his work with great whites when he was 18 years old, setting up a shark tagging project with local fishermen.

He now has 20 years of experience working with the animals, and has made more than 40 documentaries.

Mr Fallows started his company, Apex Shark Expeditions, with his wife in 2000 to enable tourists to get up close and personal with sharks.

"We specialise in taking out people who wish to learn more about the sharks and we deal with a wide variety of species, but we do most of our work with great white sharks."

He is also a photographer of sharks and sealife, and wants to give people a better understanding of their role in nature and fighting for their conservation.

"The best way to change people's perceptions is by seeing the animal, and this is my opportunity to show the great white shark as a graceful and majestic animal, and also as a supreme predator in its world," he says on his website.