A shark attack survivor who had an arm and leg ripped off by one of the predators now says he is ‘in love’ with the animals and wants to protect them.
Double amputee Paul De Gelder says his gruesome attack encouraged him to become an advocate for sharks and raise awareness of their plight.
The 42-year-old from Melbourne described the being savaged by the shark and left swimming in his own blood as ‘just a bad day at work for me’.
He was attacked by a bull shark in 2009 in Sydney harbour but claims that his ordeal has caused him to become obsessed with sharks.
Former Navy clearance diver, De Gelder was carrying out a routine military exercise when his right lower arm and leg were ripped off by the apex predator.
Shark attack survivor Paul De Gelder who is now a double amputee says his gruesome attack encouraged him to become an advocate for the predators
Despite the savage attack Paul De Gelder (left on the front cover of his book and right in his diving gear) returned to work before becoming a motivational speaker
De Gelder now says he wants ‘more people fall in love with sharks like I have’ despite being mauled by one of the predators. He is pictured diving with a shark after his recovery
De Gelder is now a motivational speaker, who participates in Shark Week every year to raise awareness of how important they are for the ecosystem.
He added: ‘I was swimming on the surface of the water wearing a black wet suit, black fins and lying on my back like an injured seal floating around.
‘The bull shark came from beneath me and grabbed me by the right leg and hand in the same bite whilst dragging me underwater.
‘I could feel the muscle from my hamstring and hand being ripped off whilst drowning at the same time.
‘It felt like two rows of about 36 razor blades on either side of my leg and wrist, just shredding their way through my flesh.
‘I tried to put up a fight by poking it in the eyes but there was nothing I could do, I began to give up hope and I resigned myself to that fate and went with it.
‘Until I realised that my hand had reached the surface and I wasn’t dead, the shark splashed in my face and swam away leaving me in a pool of my own blood.
Paul De Gelder in rehab after the attack. He spent three months in rehabilitation but miraculously returned to work for the Navy where he trained in the gym daily
De Gelders injuries after he was savaged by a bull shark during a routine military exercise for the Australian Navy
The former Navy diver lost his right lower arm and leg after the shark attack in Sydney harbour in 2009
‘I saw the safety boat coming towards me, but I didn’t think I was going to make it in time, I thought the shark would have come back to finish me off.’
De Gelder spent three months in rehabilitation but miraculously returned to work for the Navy where he trained in the gym daily.
He was desperate to return to his old job role as a diver but was given the opportunity to public-speak in 2012 which is when his new journey began.
He adds: ‘I became somewhat of a shark expert out of necessity, because the interest from that shark attack was so huge.
‘The more I learned about them, the more I understood how at threat their populations are, the challenges they’re facing and about the roles they play in our ocean.
‘Before the shark attack, I thought killing sharks was a great idea but now I love them, and I don’t get to swim with them as much as I would like to.
De Gelder pictured wrestling an alligator
‘I want to be of service like I was in the military to those who are not able to speak for themselves as I did when I was a solider.
‘My aim is to make more people fall in love with sharks like I have, people tend to protect the things they love and then we get to keep a healthy ocean.
‘Since the attack, I have been across the globe to educate people on how to dive with sharks safely.
‘I have hand fed bull sharks in Fiji, swam with tiger sharks in the Bahamas, hammerhead sharks and even great white sharks without a cage.
‘I have never blamed the shark for the loss of my limbs as I chose a dangerous job and it was just a bad day at work for me.
‘I have always chased adventure, I was an airborne solider jumping out of planes, shooting guns and rockets, I then transferred to the Navy and did it all under the water.’
De Gelder wrote a book called No Time for Fear: How a Shark Attack Survivor Beat the Odds in 2011, chronicling his recovery and battling back to dive again.
Paul De Gelder (right) during his army days before the attack in Sydney in 2009