Survivors of shark attacks band together

Sharks are one of the most vulnerable species threatened by humans and climate change today, but they have unlikely allies as shark attack survivors are coming to their defense to protect them from extinction.

One would think that anyone who has been attacked by a shark would fear and hate them. Shark attacks have certainly caused a lot of negative press which has led to mass killings of sharks. Sharks are also prized for their fins, which many people unfortunately believe can boost health.

Climate change is making things worse for sharks as their habitat and food sources disappear, something the United Nations is already taking action to prevent.

At this point, it’s not a matter of if sharks will go extinct, but when.

Rather than let their negative encounters with sharks cause them to hate and fear them, shark attack survivors Debbie Salamone, Achmat Hassiem and Mike Coots have all become part of Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation, a group that passionately advocates for the conservation of sharks around the globe.

“When something so rare happens, it’s only natural to wonder why,” Salamone told The Pew Charitable Trusts about her decision to advocate for sharks. “I figured this was a push in my life—to either turn away from my lifelong passion for the environment or view it as a test of my commitment. So, I decided to go all in for the environment and use my experience to do good.”

“Before my injury, I had no idea shark populations were in so much trouble,” she continued. “How could the ocean’s ultimate predator become hunted to the point that half of all species are threatened or near threatened with extinction? I was shocked to learn at the time that up to 73 million sharks were killed each year, and now it’s estimated to be 100 million, primarily for their fins to make shark fin soup.”

Coots, who used to think sharks are “brainless man-eaters” before he lost his leg to an attack, did everything he could to research why a shark attacked him.

That kind of information is useful for anyone who wants to take a swim in the ocean.

For instance, sharks are more active in the morning and at dusk and they often mistake humans for other prey such as seals.

Sharks are predators and are only doing what they do naturally. It would be like going swimming in a river where crocodiles hunt and expecting them to leave you alone. The problem is that once we go into the water, we’re the prey.

Killing sharks is certainly not the answer to preventing attacks on humans. Education and understanding about how sharks live and hunt are the best tools. Wiping them out only puts ecosystems at risk of collapse, not to mention robbing future generations of the opportunity to see living sharks.

“It’s one of the greatest ways I could be of help in my life,” Coots said of his effort to protect sharks. “I feel it’s my calling to keep educating others on sharks and plan on continuing for the rest of my life on Earth.”

The same goes for Hassiem, who became a medal-winning Paralympian after a Great White bit his leg off in 2006.

“My shark encounter was one of the best days of my life,” he said. “At least that’s how I look at it now. To me, it is destiny that a shark brought me to where I am now, so I need to do everything in my power to give back to sharks.”

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t reluctant at first. He suffered a traumatic injury but the more he learned of the plight sharks face, “the more I wanted to get involved.”

“Causing the collapse of healthy ecosystems by fishing out sharks is something we can’t afford to do,” he said.

Indeed, sharks are vital to the health of coral reefs, which are also vulnerable to disappearing, because they eat predatory fish that eat herbivorous fish, which are necessary to eat algae that kills coral.

Increased algae blooms would then suffocate the ocean, and that would directly affect us and our food supply.

In addition, other marine species would follow in going extinct and diseases that studying sharks could help cure would go uncured.

If shark attack survivors can become the unlikeliest of allies to this awesome creature, the rest of us should join their cause and work to protect every species of shark in every way possible. In the end, protecting their future is protecting the survival of our own.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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