July 19, 2009

Shark Attack Victims Fight For The Predator’s Safety

Despite the fact that they have experienced everyone's worst nightmare of being attacked by a shark, former surfers and vacationers -- some even missing limbs -- went to Washington seeking amnesty for their attackers.

"I'm here to lobby for the bill to save the sharks, I lost my arm. It's a very powerful statement," Al Brenneca, a 52-year-old who was attacked by a shark in 1976 in Florida, told AFP.

Brenneca descended on Capitol Hill alongside a group of eight other shark-attack survivors that were brought together by the Pew Environment Group research center in order to ask that tough restrictions be put on shark fishing.

Over one-third of all shark species are endangered, partly due to finning. Finning is where the sharks are caught, have their fins cut off, and then the rest of their body is thrown back into the water.  Shark fin soup is a culinary delicacy in Asia, placing it in high demand.

Compared to the some 70 million sharks that die in the ocean each year, shark attacks on people are actually quite rare, affecting only between 60 to 100 yearly across the globe.

"You might ask why considering I was attacked by a shark, why don't I want eat the sharks or kill them all?" quipped Krishna Thompson, a 44-year-old New York banker who was attacked by a bull shark in 2001 during his 10-year wedding anniversary in the Bahamas, garnering a lot of media attention.

The shocking part of the story was how he fought the shark with his bare hands, finally escaping its powerful jaws.

"I had the leg but all I could see was the femur and tibia, no skin, no vein, no muscle and I remember seeing the white bones. And I thought, 'Oh man, I'm going to be amputated,'" he recalled.

Thompson now sports an artificial limb and a T-shirt announcing his dedication to the protection of the sharks.

"What the shark did to me was what they are supposed to do," he insists. "Sharks have been around for 300 millions years -- before dinosaurs. They haven't changed much from then till now.

He insisted that people should not interfere with the ecological system, and must let sharks live.

"I don't want find out what life would be for us as human if they ceased to exist," Thompson stressed. "If we killed all the sharks that will have an effect on us as humans. That's why I'm here."

The demonstration on Wednesday in the Halls of Congress was unusual and jarring for even the veteran lawmakers who have seen all kinds of demonstrations of public sentiment.

Each victim described in detail the violent scene of their attack when they were forced to swim with their blood trailing behind them in order to save their lives. Most has even suffered cardiac arrest by the time they arrived to the hospital.

Thirty-year-old Mike Coots from Hawaii was attacked by a tiger shark in 1997 during his morning surf.

He was grabbed by the right leg and shaken back and forth while trying to punch the shark in its head.

He was finally released and the shark retreated into the deep water, and Mike began paddling toward shore without his leg.

"I didn't feel it come off," he recalls. "It was gone. My friend took my surfing leash and made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Yeah. He saved my life."

Coots believes that the reason he endured such an awful experience was perhaps to help protect the sharks.

"I feel very strongly that these animals have a place in the world," he insisted. "And without them, I think it's going to disrupt the entire ecosystem."

These eight advocates exude bravery and compassion, but not everyone can overcome the fear and loss from such attacks. Brenneca, who lost his arm to a shark more than 30 years ago, says that many people still harbor resentment toward these predators.

"Some people can't get over their bite and stuff," he notes. "Some people still have an anger towards things whether it be sharks or their own stupidity. It takes years to really get over a bite like this, a serious bite where you lose your arm or you lose your leg. It takes a while to get over that."


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