Video: Attack survivors stand up for sharks

  1. Transcript of: Attack survivors stand up for sharks

    CARL QUINTANILLA, co-host: Back at 7:50. They have the scars that make forgetting impossible, but apparently they can forgive. A group of nine shark attack survivors are here in New York this week. They're pushing the United Nations to adopt measures to protect sharks. The unexpected advocates were brought together by the Pew

    Environment Group, and they're with us this morning: Mike Coots, Debbie Salamone and Krishna Thompson. Good morning to all of you.

    Group: Good morning.

    QUINTANILLA: You all have similar experiences. I want to begin with you, Mike . You were body...

    Mr. MIKE COOTS (Shark Attack Survivor Turned Shark Advocate): Body boarding, yeah.

    QUINTANILLA: ...body boarding off the coast of Kauai ...

    Mr. COOTS: Yep , yep.

    QUINTANILLA: ...back in 1997 .

    Mr. COOTS: Yep. It was early morning. I had gone out with some buddies and paddled out. And nice little wave came, started paddling for it, and a large tiger shark came up, grabbed onto me, did the rag doll type thing real quick. Didn't really feel any pain, just a lot of pressure. It was over really fast. And caught a small little wave to the beach and my friend took my surf leash, made a tourniquet, rushed to the hospital, and about a week in the hospital through rehabilitation, got a prosthetic and back out surfing. Yeah.

    QUINTANILLA: Which took you a few months. Why then -- why protect this vicious predator, as we know them to be?

    Mr. COOTS: Well, after the attack, I mean, I was just going through a bunch of stuff and the Pew Environment Group had contacted me and kind of asked if I wanted to get into shark conservation and gave me some numbers and stuff, and figures and statistics, and I was just blown away. I mean, I -- it was like 70 million sharks a year. And I had no idea this was going on and felt kind of compelled, in my position, to do something and kind of turn a negative into a positive. And, you know, Hawaii , we're such an ocean-based thing, and I know the sharks are really crucial in what we're doing, and yeah.

    QUINTANILLA: Krishna , you had a similar experience in the Bahamas , and you make the point that this is sort of what sharks do, right?

    Mr. KRISHNA THOMPSON (Shark Attack Survivor Turned Shark Advocate): Yes, right.

    QUINTANILLA: They're really only living on their instinct -- on their instinctive nature.

    Mr. THOMPSON: Yes, correct.

    QUINTANILLA: And does that make it easier to protect them despite what they've done to you?

    Mr. THOMPSON: Yes, definitely. But without a doubt, I mean, this was a terrible attack. I mean, I saw the shark coming towards me, I tried to get away. It swam between my legs and grabbed my left leg between my knee and my ankle, and I heard its teeth go grr right onto my leg.

    QUINTANILLA: You say it was like a cartoon, right? The sound was...

    Mr. THOMPSON: I wouldn't say that. It was -- it was -- it wasn't a cartoon.

    QUINTANILLA: You -- you've said the sound was like a cartoon, and you've used the rag doll description as well, right?

    Mr. THOMPSON: Yes. It shook me like a rag doll and I just had to tense myself up, try not to let water go up my nose. And what I did was I threw a punch...


    Mr. THOMPSON: ...and then I took my hands and tried to release my leg from its jaws, and it worked.

    QUINTANILLA: Debbie , we should just make a quick point on some of the practices that sharks are -- live with, and that is finning, using their fins for soup, and then basically letting them out into the open to bleed to death or die.

    Ms. DEBBIE SALAMONE: Yeah, up to 73 million sharks are killed this way each year. And now we have nearly 30 percent of all shark species are threatened or near threatened with extinction. So we need to...

    QUINTANILLA: We'll watch...

    Ms. SALAMONE: We need to end finning.

Image: Shark attack survivors
Diane Bondareff  /  AP
Shark attack survivors organized by The Pew Environment Group gather outside the United Nations in New York on Sunday.
updated 9/14/2010 8:43:34 AM ET 2010-09-14T12:43:34

They have the scars and missing limbs that make it hard to forgive, but these victims are tougher than most. And now they want to save their attackers.

They are shark attack survivors, a band of nine thrown together in an unlikely and ironic mission to conserve the very creatures that ripped their flesh, tore off their limbs and nearly took their lives.

They want nations to adopt a resolution that would require them to greatly improve how fish are managed, including shark species of which nearly a third are threatened with extinction or on the verge of being threatened.

Image: Deborah Salamone
Roger Simms  /  AP
In this photo taken Aug. 30, 2004, Deborah Salamone recovers on Aug. 30, 2004, from a shark bite off Florida.

"If a group like us can see the value in saving sharks, can't everyone?" asked Florida shark bite victim Debbie Salamone, 44, whose Achilles tendon was severed in a 2004 attack that temporarily halted her ballroom dance hobby.

Salamone, a former journalist, initially made plans to eat shark steaks in revenge. Then, she said, she turned tragedy to something productive by joining the Washington-based nonprofit Pew Environment Group and recruiting like-minded shark attack survivors to work for shark conversation.

The group gathered at U.N. headquarters Monday hoping to win new protections globally for the ocean's top predators.

"We do not have scientific management plans for how many sharks can be caught," Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group told reporters at the United Nations. "There are no limits."

Speaking with the attack survivors at a news conference held to draw attention to the world's dwindling shark population, Rand said the U.N. and its member nations must do more to resolve the problem.

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Among the group's goals is to end the practice of shark finning, which kills an estimated 73 million sharks a year. Fishermen slice off shark fins, which sell for hundreds of dollars a pound for use in soup mostly in Asian markets, but dump the animal back in the water where it drowns or bleeds to death.

Because sharks are slow growing, late to mature and produce few young, they are unable to replenish their populations as quickly as they are caught, Rand said in an earlier interview. Shark attack survivors also have sought U.S. legislation to close what they view as loopholes in the country's shark finning ban.

The survivors, ages 21 to 55, say being in the wrong place at the wrong time needn't diminish their love for the ocean, where they enjoyed surfing, swimming and diving and knew the risks.

They now see greater risks to the sharks and are asking the U.N. to halt fishing of threatened and near-threatened shark species and adopt shark conservation plans to study and impose scientific limits on shark catches.

Image: Achmat Hassiem
Achmat Hassiem

Former lifeguard Achmat Hassiem, 29, of Cape Town, South Africa, lost his foot when a shark attacked him during rescue practice four years ago and said he now believes certain things happen for a reason.

"My dream was to one day become a marine biologist and focus on helping and protecting Earth's aquatic life. To participate in this event is an honor," he said.

More than a decade ago, nations agreed to voluntarily produce shark management plans, but only about 40 of some 130 nations followed through. International trade restrictions are in place for only three shark species: basking, whale and white sharks.

Image: Paul de Gelder
Tina Fineberg  /  AP
Paul de Gelder

"Do we have the right to drive any animal to the brink of extinction before any action is taken?" asked Navy diver Paul de Gelder, 33, of Sydney, Australia, who lost his right hand and right lower leg in an attack last year during antiterrorism exercises.

"Regardless of what an animal does according to its base instincts of survival, it has its place in our world," he said. "We have an obligation to protect and maintain the natural balance of our delicate ecosystems."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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