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Shark attack survivors head to UN - to save sharks

Suffolk County resident Krishna Thompson joins fellow shark

Suffolk County resident Krishna Thompson joins fellow shark attack victims to advocate on behalf of sharks at the United Nations. (Sept. 13, 2010) Credit: Charles Eckert

Call Krishna Thompson the ultimate conservationist. Though he lost his leg in a 2001 shark attack, he has become an advocate for the predator's survival.

"We need sharks. They set the balance for the whole ocean," said Thompson, 45, a Wall Street banker originally from Westbury.

Thompson freely admits he was "in their territory" when he was swimming in the Bahamas before the attack.

"Sharks do what they do," he said. "You really don't want to interfere with that."

Monday, Thompson joined fellow shark-attack survivors at the United Nations. They used their incredible personal stories to call for better shark conservation efforts - among them, a ban on the fishing of threatened species and on the slicing of fins off live sharks for sale to the lucrative Asian market.

Thompson said human encroachment upon shark habitats is behind attacks and that careful planning by scientific and fishing communities can protect both people and sharks.

"You should never interfere with Mother Nature," he said.

In August 2001, Thompson was at a Bahamas resort celebrating his 10th wedding anniversary with his wife, Ave Marie.

He was swimming in waist-high water when a bull shark locked its jaws onto his left calf. Thompson punched the shark, freed himself and swam to shore. His leg was amputated above the knee and he wears a prosthetic limb.

"I was attacked by a shark, but that isn't any reason to get rid of all sharks," Thompson said, noting that the decline of the shark population could affect the balance of marine ecosystems.

Thompson and nine other shark-attack survivors from around the world, along with the Pew Environment Group's Global Shark Conservation campaign, will spend Tuesday calling on delegates of the General Assembly, asking them to prohibit catching threatened or near-threatened sharks, according to the Pew group.

The group wants to ban "finning," where the fins, highly valued in Asian cuisine, are cut off captured sharks, which are then discarded overboard.

At a news conference at the United Nations Monday, Australian navy diver Paul de Gelder told the riveting tale of how a shark attacked him in Sydney Harbor last year, taking his right hand and right lower leg.

"I really do not believe that we as a people have the right to drive this beautiful creature to the brink of extinction," he said.

"We should actually save our environment for the next generation," said Achmat Hussein, a former lifeguard from Cape Town, South Africa, who lost his right foot to a shark in 2006 while he was training.

The group spoke to the missions from Honduras, Australia and the Seychelles Monday, and plans to meet with more countries Tuesday as well as hold a panel discussion for delegates.

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