Paul De Gelder: 'Shark Week' return to attack scene was emotional experience

Paul de Gelder has five new programs premiering for the 2024 edition of "Shark Week." Photo courtesy of Discovery+
1 of 2 | Paul de Gelder has five new programs premiering for the 2024 edition of "Shark Week." Photo courtesy of Discovery+

NEW YORK, July 7 (UPI) -- Australian Navy diver and marine life conservationist Paul De Gelder says a "hectic" year led to him starring in five new Shark Week specials for Discovery.

De Gelder will be seen in Great White Serial Killer: Sea of Blood, Sydney Harbor Shark Invasion, Deadliest Bite, The Real Sharkano and Shark Attack Island.


"The first half of this year, I've been away on adventures, trying not to die, trying to bring the most excitement and education to everyone," De Gelder told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

"I was back and forth across the equator a couple of times over a few months," he laughed. "I was going from Bahamas to Australia to Florida, New Zealand to New Caledonia, and then I had some speaking work in Nashville, Detroit, New Orleans, so I've been away from home a bit."


Sydney Harbor Shark Invasion brings De Gelder back to the place where a 700-pound bull shark bit off his arm and leg during a 2009 military exercise.

"That was a really emotional one for me," he said.

"I have not dived in those areas since my shark attack in Sydney Harbor. I certainly haven't gone into those areas looking for bull sharks," De Gelder added. "I've gone into those areas hoping I don't see any bull sharks, but that wouldn't be a very good show, would it? And, so, we really wanted to look at whether people were at risk because there had been another negative shark interaction, a shark bite, just before we started filming."

This was the first shark attack in the area since De Gelder was seriously injured.

"I think it's a pretty good length of time [between incidents], but the concern was that climate change, the warming waters, were keeping the bull sharks in the harbor longer," he said.

"We wanted to try and get a feel of how many, how big and where were they throughout the harbor so that we could keep people safe."

Given his past experience, De Gelder was understandably nervous about returning to these particular waters.


"I don't get scared of much anymore, but getting back into Sydney Harbor, into that murky water, knowing the bull sharks were around, that was pretty touching," he said. "I was feeling some things I hadn't felt in a while."

To get through it, he relied on his military training.

"You've got a 100-pound pack attached to you and you're jumping out of a plane with 300 other dudes into the middle of the night," he said.

"You just don't have a choice. You just do it and I think that's really helped me throughout the years to get over my fears of sharks and help me into this new realm of working with Shark Week and actually getting to share my passion and my love for these animals with everyone else. There's nothing wrong with being scared and then doing it anyway."

De Gelder emphasized that he couldn't accomplish all that he does without having the best team of professional scientists, divers and camera technicians working alongside him.

"This is so vitally important, and the great thing is that many of these people that we work with have been working on Shark Week just as long, if not longer, than me," he said.


Shark Week 2024 starts Sunday on Discovery, with actor and pro wrestler John Cena introducing more than a dozen new programs throughout the week.

One of the things that De Gelder loves best about the annual programming block is that it brings family members of all ages together to watch, learn and maybe even be inspired to explore the ocean themselves.

"You get to learn together, and it's something that you can talk about with each other throughout the years and then even talk about going to experience yourself because you can go out to the Bahamas, you can go out to Florida, you can go to Australia and go to New Zealand, and you can have these amazing, shark encounters," he said.

"Maybe the young kids will be like, 'I want to do that one day,' or, 'I want to go and be on Shark Week,' or become a marine biologist or a shark conservationist," he added. "There's so much that can come out of the viewing of Shark Week."

De Gelder credited Discovery's marketing department with coming up with the fun, catchy names for the programs.

"They're very sensational titles," he said. "Not everyone agrees with the titles, but it's there to hook you in and make you interested."


De Gelder remembered wondering for a moment if the title Great White Serial Killer would put sharks in a negative light for viewers.

"They'll watch it and discover that's a very serious investigation into how we keep humans and sharks safe, and, so, they do a very good job of hooking them in. We get no say. We just go and make the shows and try not to die. That's our job."

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