Interview with Paul de Gelder: From Shark Attack Survivor to Conservation Advocate

Author: Ariel Landrum

As someone deeply committed to both mental health and environmental conservation, I was honored to sit down with the extraordinary Paul de Gelder, an elite veteran Australian Navy diver turned shark conservationist featured in Discovery’s Shark Week. Paul’s story of resilience and transformation following a life-altering shark attack is both captivating and inspiring. With Shark Week fast approaching, I’m excited to share insights from our conversation and encourage everyone to watch Paul’s upcoming episodes.

From the beginning, Paul’s story captivated me. In 2009, a horrific shark attack left Paul with two lost limbs, a traumatic experience that could have ended his career and passion for the ocean. Instead, it became the catalyst for his transformation into a champion for shark conservation. I remember hearing about this on the news all the way to Kansas, where I was attending college. I had discussed the breaking news with my father over the phone, who served a career in the Navy. He had never had any close encounters with sharks, given that he was a radioman. Now, over a decade later, I had the opportunity to hear about this experience directly from the source.

Honestly, I was left in awe at the ease with which Paul was both honest and humourous about his experience. Paul recalled, “I didn’t really want anything to do with them, to be honest. Previous to the shark attack, I just figured if we killed them all, then we could just swim in the ocean and be safe.” This perspective shifted dramatically over time, leading Paul to become an advocate for these majestic creatures.

Paul’s journey to becoming a conservationist was not immediate. He described how, after the attack, his initial fear and desire to avoid sharks gave way to a deeper understanding and respect for them. “As a Navy diver in the water all the time, I had them on the brain,” he said. “It wasn’t until years later that I actually became interested in working in conservation and creating these amazing shark documentaries.”

One of the pivotal moments in Paul’s transformation was his realization of how jeopardized these marine predators were. He explained, “I started to realize how under threat they were and how much they do need champions to stand up for them and how important they are to not just the ocean’s ecosystem but the entire world.” This understanding fueled his mission to protect sharks and educate the public about their importance.

His work on Shark Week shows Paul’s dedication to shark conservation. In Sydney Harbor Shark Invasion, premiering Sunday, July 7, at 11PM ET/PT, Paul revisits the site of his 2009 shark attack for the first time. Alongside Madison Stewart, he investigates a recent great white shark attack, the first fatal incident in the region in almost 60 years. This dramatic encounter is part of a larger story of great whites contending with bull sharks, tiger sharks, and even humans in a battle for supremacy.

In our interview, Paul shared his reflections on returning to the site of his attack. “It was very harrowing,” he admitted. “I don’t feel fear as much as I used to; nothing really scares me anymore. But that doesn’t mean I want to get into murky water in Sydney Harbor, where I know there are bull sharks with bait attached to me,” he joked. Despite these challenges, Paul remains committed to his mission, making it as safe as possible while acknowledging the inherent dangers.

Paul De Gelder

Paul’s work extends beyond just documenting sharks. In Great White Serial Killer: Sea of Blood, airing Monday, July 8th, at 10PM ET/PT, Paul joins shark investigator Brandon McMillan and local biologist Gádor Muntaner López to address a series of fatal great white shark attacks off a small Mexican fishing village. His goal is to protect both the sharks and the local community. Paul explained, “This is what’s happening to the diver fishermen of Yavaros in the Sea of Cortez. They’re getting attacked by great whites. They’re diving into super murky water, making noises, fishing. And so that was another great adventure to go and try and not just help the sharks stay safe from these fishermen, but also protect the community and their livelihood’​​.”

In Deadliest Bite, premiering Tuesday, July 9th, at 8PM ET/PT, Paul, alongside Dr. Tristan Guttridge, Annie Guttridge, and Skye Minnis, uses cutting-edge technology to unveil the secrets of various shark species’ jaw mechanics, delving into how these sharks’ jaws and teeth deliver lethal attacks.

For Paul, conservation isn’t just about protecting sharks; it’s about ensuring a balanced ecosystem and inspiring others to overcome challenges. “Keeping them around keeps us around,” he emphasized. “That’s a pretty great transfer of my military service—standing up for those that can’t stand up for themselves. Now I have the opportunity to speak up for an animal that doesn’t have a voice.” For example, Friday, July 12th, at 8PM ET/PT, Paul stars in The Real Sharkano, where he visits an ultra-remote island of shark-worshiping natives to see if their secret ways of swimming with deadly sharks hold the key to humans and sharks living together in peace.

Also showing Friday, July 12th, at 10PM ET/PT, don’t miss Shark Attack Island, where Paul, along with Dr. Riley Ellioytt and Kori Burkhardt, investigates a South Pacific paradise that has become a hot spot for shark attacks. Their mission is to identify the species responsible and understand why these attacks are occurring.

Paul’s ability to find purpose and passion in the face of adversity is truly inspiring. He shared how he adapted to his new reality with prosthetic limbs, stating, “I have robot limbs now. I have one of the world’s best robotic hands. I’ll never play the piano with it, but it holds a beer, which is nice.” His humor and resilience shine through as he embraces life with his “robot limbs” and continues to push the boundaries of what is possible.

With Shark Week kicking off on Sunday, July 7, hosted by John Cena, viewers are in for a week of thrilling encounters with apex predators and deep-sea adventures. Paul’s episodes promise to be highlights, showcasing his dedication to shark conservation and inspiring others through his incredible story of survival and advocacy.

In the meantime, tune into Shark Week: The Podcast with host Kasha Patel for thrilling tales from the ocean depths. Explore the sea’s mysteries, from shark telepathy to mating rituals, and get your apex predator fix. Available on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Great White Shark

Here’s a brief rundown of the Shark Week schedule:


  • “Belly of the Beast: Bigger and Bloodier” premieres at 8PM ET/PT
  • “Jaws vs Leviathan” premieres at 9PM ET/PT
  • “Makozilla” premieres at 10PM ET/PT
  • “Sydney Harbor Shark Invasion” premieres at 11PM ET/PT


  • “Big Shark Energy” premieres at 8PM ET/PT
  • “Shark Frenzy: Mating Games” premieres at 9PM ET/PT
  • “Great White Serial Killer: Sea of Blood” premieres at 10PM ET/PT


  • “Deadliest Bite” premieres at 8PM ET/PT
  • “6000lb. Shark” premieres at 9PM ET/PT
  • “Monster Hammerheads: Species X” premieres at 10PM ET/PT


  • “Great White North” premieres at 8PM ET/PT
  • “Expedition Unknown: Sharks vs. Nazis in Paradise” premieres at 9PM ET/PT
  • “Alien Sharks: Ghosts of Japan” premieres at 10PM ET/PT


  • “Monster of Oz” premieres at 8PM ET/PT
  • “Caught! When Sharks Attack” premieres at 9PM ET/PT
  • “Great White Danger Zone” premieres at 10PM ET/PT


  • “The Real Sharkano” premieres at 8PM ET/PT
  • “Sharks of the Dead Zone” premieres at 9PM ET/PT
  • “Shark Attack Island” premieres at 10PM ET/PT


  • “Sharktopia” premieres at 8PM ET/PT
  • “Mothersharker: Hammer Time” premieres at 9PM ET/PT

Discovery Channel, dedicated to creating high-quality non-fiction content, brings Shark Week to life with compelling, high-end production values and vivid cinematography that entertain and inform viewers about the world in all its wonder, diversity, and amazement.

As a narrative therapist, I believe in the power of stories to heal and inspire. Paul de Gelder’s story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of conservation. By sharing his journey, we can all learn to appreciate the beauty of our natural world and the need to protect it for future generations. Tune in to Shark Week and let Paul’s adventures inspire you to make a difference.

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