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Bull shark bit off his right hand and leg and he now wants to save sharks from extinction

Australian Paul de Gelder is a former Navy bomb disposal diver. He said: “[I] had my life changed in a very violent, painful and dramatic way.” He lives in California and was training in Sydney Harbour in February 2009 when he was attacked by a nine-foot bull shark. The shark bit off his right hand and leg. The attack almost killed him. You would be forgiven for believing that he developed an instant fear of sharks but quite the contrary. He has dedicated his life to protecting and conserving sharks from extinction.

Diver whose hand and leg were bitten off by a bull shark wants to save them

Diver whose hand and leg were bitten off by a bull shark wants to save them. Image: MikeB based on an image of de Gelder by Barry J Holmes/The Observer.

And they are indeed threatened with extinction because an estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually to feed the shark fin soup and traditional medicine market. These are Asian markets and it is astonishing to think that 100 million sharks are killed to support them.

I recently wrote about reef sharks threatened with becoming extinct. It is also shocking to believe that humankind can allow this to happen. Perhaps people don’t like sharks enough to protect them but they are an important part of the ecosystem.

De Gelder said:

“I knew nothing about sharks. I didn’t care about them. I figured, if we wipe them all out, then we wouldn’t have to worry about being eaten, to go through what I went through and then understanding how actually important they are to the oceans, to the ecosystems and to us as well. If I can work that out, then surely my passion about this subject will relay down to other people so that they want to understand and learn more and protect these animals as well.”

He campaigns against the trade in shark fins. The number killed is unsustainable he said and without intervention shark populations will collapse. He is urging people to petition for stricter laws to protect them.

He travels the world giving motivational speeches and delivers environmental lectures. He has presented documentaries for Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. And he has published a book: “Shark: Why We Need to Save the World’s Most Misunderstood Predator”.

The attack almost killed him but he survived. I think he’s a very smart person because he understood how he could turn something so catastrophically bad in his life to something really good. He has leveraged the attack on him and from it, I sense, improved his life. It has infused him with a passion to improve the world as well.

Sharks need protecting from a superstitious belief that shark fins carry medicinal properties.

This is a belief, which as far as I know is unsupported by science. They believe that shark fin soup is a tonic promoting general well-being and that it has anti-cancer properties. Shark cartilage has been used to treat cancer and HIV, arthritis, psoriasis, wound healing and damage to the retina of the eye due the diabetes and inflammation of the intestines (enteritis).

I feel sorry for the shark that humankind has to be so superstitious and believe all these things. Where is the science behind it? Why is the human still so chronically superstitious? Is it fear? And why do humans allow themselves to destroy a species because of their misplaced superstitions?

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