“I was in the wrong place at the right time,” says South African Achmat Hassiem, who lost his right leg to one of the oceans most feared predators, the great white shark.
Amazingly, he now travels the world as a Global Sharks and Marine Guardian for the United Nations, convincing people that sharks are to be protected, not destroyed.
On the morning of August 13, 2006, Hassiem was doing a routine life-saving exercise at Cape Town’s Sunrise Beach when he spotted a large fin in the water, heading toward his brother. The fin belonged to a monster 15.5 ft great white, and Hassiem instinctively started pounding the water to distract the shark.
It turned on Hassiem instead, and he recalls a mixture of fear, panic and amazement as the powerful beast first brushed against him and then attacked. “Forget about punching a shark on the nose,” he laughs, “It does nothing to a great white.” Instead, it clenched his leg in its jaws and dragged him 55 yards underwater at speed, until he heard the sickening crunch of his leg coming loose. Bobbing to the surface, his brother and colleagues rescued him in a rubber dingy and the ordeal was over.
“Sharks don’t scare me anymore,” he says. “They play a crucial part in the ocean ecosystem, which could fall apart without them. By protecting sharks, I’m helping protect the human race.” Adopting his new nickname, “Shark Boy,” Hassiem went on to swim in the Paralympics in Beijing and London and now speaks in front of thousands of delegates at international marine events, convincing individuals and governments alike to support shark conservation.
“Movies such as Jaws and Little Nemo, where sharks are portrayed as the bad guys, needs to change. More than 100 million sharks are killed every year, mainly for a bowl of shark fin soup. Who better to speak up for these creatures than a shark attack survivor?” he says.