An Australian surfer who was almost killed in a great white shark attack has won the right to keep the tooth the 5.5m-long beast left wedged in his surfboard.
The shark ripped Chris Blowes’ leg off and after being rescued, he was in a coma for 10 days.
Investigating police found one of the shark’s teeth embedded in his board, but South Australia state rules ban anyone from possessing parts of protected species.
Now, after six years, the state has granted him an exemption, and he says he’s keeping the tooth as a souvenir.
Blowes, now 32, was surfing at Fishery Bay off Adelaide in April 2015 when he was struck from behind.
“It shook me about and played with me for a bit,” he told the BBC. “And it ended up pulling my leg off”.
After being brought to shore by two friends, Blowes was taken to hospital in Adelaide.
“My heart had completely stopped and they had to administer CPR until I showed any signs of life,” he said.
When police went to recover his surfboard, they found a shark’s tooth lodged in it. Following South Australia law, they handed it in to the authorities.
“And then from that day on I wasn’t allowed to see the tooth,” he said.
Under the state’s Fisheries Management Act, it is illegal to possess, sell or purchase any part of white sharks – and those who breach the law can face a fine of up to A$100,000 (US$77,000) or two years in prison.
Blowes told the BBC he asked officials several times if he could have the tooth, but it was only after a local politician heard about his case that an exemption was granted.
“It was stuck in my board,” he says. “I would never kill a shark for its tooth but it took my leg so I can’t see any reason why I can’t have that.
“The shark isn’t getting its tooth back and I’m not getting my leg back.” “It’s not really a fair trade – a leg for a tooth,” he told ABC News. “You can see the damage on the end of the tooth from it going into my board – it’s definitely a bottom jaw tooth – its top jaw got my left flank and the bottom jaw got the underside of my board.”
David Basham, South Australia’s minister for primary industries and regional development, said returning the tooth was the least his department could do.
“Chris has obviously been through a hugely traumatic experience and I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help,” Basham told ABC.
The intrepid, or some might say foolhardy, surfer has taught himself how to surf with his prosthetic leg.
He told ABC, he keeps the tooth in a case and takes it along to motivational talks he gives about his near-death experience.
“It’ll be a good souvenir to show my grandchildren,” he said.