Analysis

Stunning Photos by Shark Attack Survivor Capture Predators’ Beauty

Mike Coots shares advocacy message through popular Instagram images

“After hearing the sheer numbers of sharks being killed annually for their fins, I felt compelled to take action,” says Mike Coots, shark attack survivor and advocate.

Mike Coots lost his leg to a tiger shark at age 18 while surfing off Kauai, Hawaii. But the experience didn’t shake his love for riding waves, the ocean—or sharks.

Now 37, Coots is an avid shark advocate and professional photographer based in Kauai. He speaks out against the shark fin trade and other harmful practices, using his photography to communicate his message.

“I wish the public would lose this irrational fear of sharks,” Coots says.

He shares images of his shark encounters on his popular Instagram feed, taking every opportunity to note the important role that these top predators play inmaintaining healthy ocean ecosystems.

During the Discovery Channel’s 2016 Shark Week celebration, Coots did a two-day “takeover” of @pewenvironment’s Instagram account, posting his stunning photos and his thoughts on shark conservation.

“I lost my leg to a tiger shark while riding the waves in Kauai in 1997, but now I’m at peace with sharks and fighting for their right to exist in our oceans” Coots says.

Coots says he felt compelled to advocate for sharks after learning that millions are killed annually—adding that he sees governments taking positive steps to limit this toll.

“I’ve witnessed so much good work to help protect sharks over the past several years,” says Coots, citing new shark sanctuaries and international trade protections.

“The ocean is a huge part of my life. A life without the sea is scarier to me than worrying about getting attacked again.”

The most important thing Coots wants people to know about sharks? They’re not to be feared. Instead, he hopes people learn how magnificent and critically important they are to the health of the oceans. He says sharks and humans can coexist peacefully.

“I still love sharks even after being attacked. The scariest part of snapping this great white shark photo? How cold the water was” off Stewart Island at the southern tip of New Zealand.

2016 marks an important opportunity to advance shark protections and save species with rapidly declining populations. “We can have more shark species protected through international trade restrictions,” says Coots. “It would be amazing to see the U.S. support the shark protections proposed at the September meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“When you’re this close to the sea, how can you not appreciate a healthy ocean? As top predators, sharks keep the whole ocean ecosystem balanced.”

“I actually got into photography to help pass the time during rehabilitation from my shark encounter. Scenes like this great white shark swimming are incredibly beautiful to watch and capture.”

The waters off Hanalei, Hawaii. “I hope you’ll join me in continuing to fight for sharks and for our oceans,” he says.

Luke Warwick directs shark conservation efforts for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Since this story was published in June 2016, silky sharks, thresher sharks, and mobula rays have been granted protections by CITES. The story was also updated on July 28, 2017, to reflect changes in the number of shark sanctuaries around the world.

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