Shark attack survivors spread conservation message

Mike Beach, Kent Bonde
In this Aug. 3, 2015 photo, Kent Bonde, left, and Mike Beach, right, pose for a photograph in Key Biscayne, Fla. Both are survivors of shark attacks, and are now shark advocates, trying to educate the public about sharks' declining populations and their importance to ocean ecosystems. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI (AP) — Get back in the water. There’s more to learn from sharks than fear.

That’s the message a loose network of shark attack survivors organized six years ago through the Pew Charitable Trusts to advocate for shark conservation efforts.

SHARK CONSERVATION: The group has lobbied Congress to close loopholes in the nation’s shark finning ban and advocated for shark conservation at a United Nations convention for migratory species. They also participated in a study that used DNA testing to link shark fin soup served in the U.S. to vulnerable shark species.

Members say shark conservation benefits coastal communities that depend on healthy reefs and fish populations for tourism and commercial harvests.

SURVIVAL STORIES: For Mike Beach, the realization that sharks were in more danger in the ocean than he was came almost immediately after a reef shark bit into his left calf in 1996.

Beach had been feeding sharks as part of a dive business in the Bahamas. Losing blood, he worried the shark would end up looking like the bad guy.

“People would villainize the shark and I would be made to look like the victim, and I knew that wasn’t true. So, I tried to do whatever I could immediately from placing blame on the shark and immediately place blame not just on me but on the culture of shark feeding for the purpose of recreation or tourism,” Beach said.

MYTHBUSTING: The myth that sharks were bloodthirsty man-eaters flashed through Kent Bonde’s mind when a bull shark ripped off his left calf muscle while he was spearfishing in the Bahamas in 2001.

As he frantically tried to get back to his boat, he remembered stories about sharks being attracted to human blood. “The whole time I was thinking, where are the other sharks?” Bonde said.

But no other sharks were stalking him. He had been tasted and released. “We’re not part of the menu. A shark bite can be exploratory — the shark trying to figure out if you’re edible — and usually they immediately let you go,” Bonde said.

___

Online:

Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation: https://www.facebook.com/SharkAttackSurvivors

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