Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Shark Attack Survivors to Beachgoers: Keep Calm and Swim On

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Shark Attack Survivors to Beachgoers: Keep Calm and Swim On

Article excerpt

It's easy to understand the hard feelings that a person might have against sharks after been bitten by one, but a loose network of shark attack survivors is instead urging swimmers to get back in the water and advocating for shark conservation and research.

Organized by the Pew Charitable Trust about six years ago, the group has taken their efforts away from the beach by lobbying Congress to shore up the nation's shark finning ban and by pushing for the United Nations to look at shark conservation at a conference about migratory species.

The group also participated in a study that used DNA testing to link vulnerable shark species to shark fin soup served in the United States.

Al Brenneka's story is indicative of the change in mindset that the group's members go through.

At the age of 19, Mr. Brenneka was on cloud nine after riding one of the best waves of his life off the cost of Daytona Beach in Florida. While attempting to paddle back to shore, however, he felt a searing pain from his arm and when he went to check it he saw a massive lemon shark chomping down on his elbow.

In order to escape, he had to knee the shark in the gills.

After being brought to shore, Brenneka lost consciousness and was declared dead on arrival when he was carted off to the hospital. After extensive blood transfusions and a three-day coma, he defeated the odds and pulled through.

Brenneka woke form his coma to find he lost his right arm at the elbow in the attack. And while his physical wounds were patched up with stitches and skin grafts, the struggle to mend his mental health was longer term battle.

"To be hunted and stalked, and then have something try to consume a part of your body, it sends a trigger in your brain that changes everything," he said.

After a while, Brennaka dived back into the water, this time hunting the creatures that had once hunded him. But in 1986, when he reeled in a 200-pound hammerhead shark that he realized he couldn't eat, he had an epiphany.

What was the point of going offshore and killing sharks if the meat was simply going to waste?

"That's hard to just throw away 150, 200 pounds of meat. …

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