Shark attack survivor Mike Coots dedicates his life to preserving the species that bit off his foot

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News Writer
Good News

It's Shark Week. The Discovery Channel is using its 25th annual week of Shark-centric programming to focus on survival, education and preservation.

One of the shark-attack survivors featured this week is Mike Coots, a surfer who lost his leg to a large tiger shark off the coast of Hawaii in 1997.

Instead of becoming bitter at the animal that took his leg, Coots started dedicating his time to preserving the species.

"Pretty much my whole life was about the ocean," Coots told USA Today. "After I was bitten, I just felt blessed to be alive and never had any hostility or any anger toward sharks."

Watch Coots' shark-attack story below. (There's plenty of fake blood. If you're squeamish, you have been warned.)

"I lost my leg and nearly my life after being attacked by a large tiger shark here in Hawaii. I do feel that these predators play a very important role in the health of our oceans, and I strongly oppose any type of shark hunting or culling program," Coots shared with CNN.

Coots spoke out after a surfer was killed by a great white shark near Perth. While an Australian law protects these sharks, some officials want to start killing them again.

"By fishing for the great white shark, the bycatch will surely be a bunch of other shark species that have never had a history of munching on people. They did a shark culling program in Hawaii in the 1960s and early '70s, and 4,668 sharks were killed. Only 554 were the targeted species, the tiger shark," Coots wrote.

One stat cites that while sharks kill fewer than 20 people a year, humans kill between 20 and 100 million sharks each year due to fishing activity. National Geographic claims that shark-attack numbers have increased over the years not because of more aggressive shark behaviour but because more humans are spending time in coastal waters.

Coots is passionate about shark conversation, harbouring no ill feelings toward the shark that severed his foot — and cost him his leg — when he was just 17.

"I feel really fortunate that I don't have bad dreams, or hard feelings," he told Huffington Post. "I really have just come to terms that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. They just do what they do."

Coots is an ambassador for the Pew Environmental Group and was part of the 2010 effort that passed a ban on both the possession and sale of shark fins in the United States.

"I love the ocean so much; I feel compelled to do something," he said.

A number of shark-attack survivors work as activists for the same organization, the Washington Post reports.

"This is the ultimate melding of shark attacks becoming shark conservation," said Debbie Salamone, a Pew Environment Group communications officer whose Achilles tendon was severed by a shark in 2004. "I think it's really helping us."

Coots continues to surf using a carbon fibre prosthetic leg.