Navy diver who lost two limbs in shark attack goes on quest for 'Joan of Shark'

Shark Week: Navy clearance diver Paul de Gelder tells story of horrific attack in 'Bride of Jaws'


Paul de Gelder lost two limbs in a 2009 shark attack when he was an Australian Navy clearance diver. Unbowed, he continues to dive with sharks to learn more about them. He stars in Discovery Channel’s Shark Week special, “Bride of Jaws," about the the quest to find and re-tag "Joan of Shark," which, at 16 feet, is the largest female Great White shark to ever be tagged.

FOX411: Can you take us through the attack?

Paul de Gelder: So, I’m what’s called a Navy clearance diver. It’s basically a bomb disposal diver. We’re in Sydney Harbor, a place where I’ve dived a hundred times before, and we were doing a counterterrorism exercise. It’s pretty boring. It sounds exciting, but it’s pretty boring. All I was doing was swimming along, acting like an attack swimmer. I was on the surface on my back and a bull shark came up from underneath me, and grabbed me by the hamstring and the hand in the same bite. I tried to fight it off, as you would want to do, which was useless. There was nothing I could do. It didn’t blink at me. I know because I was trying to poke it in the eyeball, and it took me under and it started tearing me apart. I thought this is it. I’m dead. There is no way I can get out of this. And the next second I was free. I don’t know how. Maybe it was swimming away swallowing or swimming away spitting me out because I tasted crappy, but I just started swimming for my safety boat. I took the first stroke and saw that my hand was gone. My medical training kicked in. In the military we do a lot of hard-core intense training, so I was cognizant enough to know I needed to keep that wound above my heart to stop the bleeding. I tried to swim as fast as I could in a pool of my own blood to get to the safety boat, and my buddies in the boat provided first aid and kept me alive. I’m really lucky.

FOX411: What did you do to get back in the water with sharks and why?

de Gelder: I was in the hospital for nine weeks; I went back into the ocean after three months. I love it. I love diving. I love being in the ocean. I grew up around it. It has a big draw on me. So, I wasn’t going to let the things that I’m afraid of stop me from doing the things that I love.

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FOX411: So, you weren’t afraid of being attacked by another shark?

de Gelder: What’s the chance of it happening twice? To be honest, I’m probably less scared now than I was before. You come that close to death you kind of realize there’s just nothing left to be afraid of. 

FOX411: Tell us about your show “Bride of Jaws.”

de Gelder: Our goal in this show was to find [Joan of Shark] and re-tag her with a satellite tracking device. With that we can track in real time where’s she going, what time of year she’s going there, we can predict what she’s doing -- if she’s breeding, feeding, eating or dropping her pups and we can work to protect those areas so that fishermen don’t go through and kill these young Great White Sharks before they reach sexual maturity, drop their own pups and keep the cycle going, because they’re in decline. I don’t want to explain to my kids and grandkids 'Hey they were great, but we wiped them out.'

FOX411: There have been several shark attacks already this summer. Is there any way swimmers can be safer in the water? 

de Gelder: There’s a lot of ways you can protect yourself. To reduce the already low risk of being attacked by a shark you can do certain things. You cannot swim either hour outside of dusk and dawn, which are prime shark hunting periods, because it’s low light. They're ambush predators so they use the low light conditions to attack fish. Unfortunately, that means they can’t see too well and if they come in contact with a human they may take a bite, but they’re not attacking. You know humans are not on the menu. It’s an exploratory bite and from everything that’s happened in the last couple of weeks, they don’t want to eat us, they’re just taking a bite and then they move on.  If you stay away from the mouths of rivers and inlets, where a lot of bull sharks travel in and out, if you stay away from piers and wharfs where fishermen are fishing and attracting sharks in. You factor all that stuff in and stay abreast of all the reports and you’re drastically reducing your chance of coming in contact with a shark.

'Bride of Shark' airs on Discovery July 7.

Fox Reporter and FOX411 host Diana Falzone covers celebrity news and interviews some of today's top celebrities and newsmakers.  You can follow her on Twitter @dianafalzone.