Marine biologist Terry Lilley believes coconuts are more dangerous than sharks.
And he will spend two hours today convincing Kula Elementary and High School students of the same.
“In the past 15 years, there have been five shark attacks in which people have been killed in the Hawaiian islands,” Lilley said. “In that same time, 120 people were killed by fallen coconuts.”
The former pro-surfer will be teaching such “shark truths” today to seventh- and 10th-graders who are students of Paul Clark, president of Save Our Seas.
Lilley has recently become the sole SOS shark specialist, a task which he hopes will help the international non-profit further educate residents about the ocean and its wrongfully-feared inhabitants.
“He’s definitely the shark expert,” said Harry Conti, chief executive officer for Save Our Seas. “Nobody dives with sharks for 30 years without a cage without knowing what they’re doing,” Conti said.
“This guy’s amazing,” Clark said. “Whether he’s feeding sharks, getting lobsters, or taking underwater pictures, he’s always so full of energy and so generous.”
Lilley donates 10 percent of his photography proceeds to SOS.
An avid cold-blooded animal expert and advocate, Lilley has spent his past 20 years studying marine life, a passion which has cultivated such habits as hand-feeding sharks — an activity he promises is safer than riding a 15-foot wave in Hanalei.
“Often they’re hard to find,” Lilley said. “In fact, usually they’ll split when we see them. One came up to me because he was curious about a fish I had speared,” Lilley said.
Beyond his philanthropic efforts, Lilley’s mission is simple: To “undo the harm” of the falsehoods about sharks — specifically, that they prey on humans.
“The worst thing about (the movie) Jaws is it portrays sharks as pursuing and killing people,” he said. “That movie was 100 percent false. My goal in life is to remove that movie from everyone’s mind.”
Within his message, Lilley said, is an understanding of what the likelihood is of getting bitten or killed by a shark.
“There is really no way to be wary of a shark,” Lilley said. “The shark is in 100 percent control. We’re slow swimmers and divers.”
In response to incidents in which humans have been injured by sharks, such as when surfer Bethany Hamilton was bitten near Tunnels Beach by a shark on Halloween in 2003, Lilley said the incident was “an accident.”
He likened the shark attack on Hamilton to a human’s chance of getting struck by lightning.
“We’ve got to be logical,” Lilley said. “One thousand people die of bee stings in a year, 100 die of dog maulings and five people die from shark bites,” he said. “We have to think, ‘Which would be safer? Being in the water, at a park with dogs, or near a bunch of hibiscus flowers?’ These accidental bites are so rare that you really, truly, don’t have anything to be concerned about.”
The next SOS event will be the International Clean Oceans Conference, June 9 at the Princeville Resort Ballroom. A 10th anniversary reef check will be done that morning in front of the resort at Pu‘u Poa.
Dive on in to SOS
To learn more about Save Our Seas or to make a donation to further its cause, go to www.saveourseas.org.
• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or email@example.com.