How to Avoid a Shark Attack
8 ways to avoid being bitten
Worried Jaws could ruin your next beach vacation? Despite a recent uptick in shark attacks, your odds of being bitten are incredibly small — and you can take steps to make them even smaller.
Terror-inducing headlines aside, shark attacks are rare. In 2014, only 72 people in the world were attacked by unprovoked sharks, and only three of them were killed, according to data from the International Shark Attack File, part of the University of Florida’s Florida Program for Shark Research.
If 72 people sounds like a lot, consider the fact that humans spend hundreds of millions of hours in the sea each year, says George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
“The odds of encountering a shark, much less dying, are simply not very high,” he says.
Still, it makes sense to respect sharks and takes steps to steer clear of these predators. Here are eight basic dos and don’ts to avoid a shark attack:
- Take your dip during daylight. Stay out of the water at dusk and dawn, when many sharks are out looking for a meal. “Sharks are doing most of their feeding at that time,” Burgess says, adding that those times of day are when commercial and recreational fishers go on the hunt for sharks. So, forget taking a brisk early morning swim or that moonlight dip in the ocean, he says.
- Leave the bling on shore. The light glinting off a metal anklet or wrist bracelet or ring in the water can look a lot like sun shining off the scales of a fish, Burgess says. In this National Geographic video, a diver dangles silver chains to show how shiny objects draw sharks.
- Avoid fishing spots. “We want to separate the bathers from the fishers,” Burgess says. Stay away from people fishing and fishing piers, where there might be bait and chum in the water. “Those are attractive places for sharks to be,” Burgess says, adding that sharks will get trained to return to spots where they once got goodies. But if people are fishing at dawn and gone by midday, how do you know where the popular fishing spots are? Ask locals, Burgess recommends.
- Steer clear of areas sharks love. Avoid areas such as inlets, channels and troughs between sand bars that form the surf zone in a beach area, Burgess says. Those areas are “favorite hangouts” for sharks, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.
- Go into the water in groups. “Stay together,” Burgess says. Predators of all kinds, including sharks, go after solitary prey, he notes. “Do the same things fishes do: Stay in schools,” Burgess says. “There’s safety in numbers.”
- Know that shallow doesn’t mean safe. In North Carolina, several recent attacks took place in waist-deep water. That’s common because bathers spend most of their time in water less than six feet deep, Burgess says. “If the motivation is right, a shark will chase people right up to the beach.”
- Don’t splash around. Especially where visibility is poor, many sharks simply grab at splashes trying to get a fish, Burgess says. That’s partly why surfers are more prone to be victims of sharks. “Their activities are provocative — there’s the kicking of feet, the splashing of the hands to get a wave and the inevitable wipeout,” he says. Keep dogs out of the water, too, because they tend to move around a lot, advises the Florida Museum of Natural History.
- Don’t expect to spot a fin. Unless you’re on the set of a Hollywood movie, you probably won’t see a menacing-looking dorsal fin coming toward you. Sharks tend to approach from behind and beneath. Pretty much all shark attacks take the victim by surprise, Burgess says. “As predators, it’s in their best interest to sneak up on prey and get them before they know there’s danger,” he says.
What if you do get attacked? Try to fend off the shark, Burgess recommends. Cram your fingers into its eyes or gills, which are sensitive areas. Or, a smack to the nose might make the shark veer away, Burgess says (though other experts say this trick is unlikely to work)
“Then get the heck out of the water,” he says.