How To Survive A Shark Attack [Better To Be Safe Than Sorry]

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You are not going to be eaten by a shark. Well, probably not. According to the odds, the chances are 1 in 4,332,817 that you will ever be bitten. A comforting fact when you’re checking stats on your couch. Not as comforting when you’re about to take a dip on a beach vacation.

To give you a little perspective, you are more likely to die from taking a selfie. No, we are not kidding. Between 2011 and 2017, 259 selfie-related deaths were reported across the globe.

The shark death total for the same time period? 50 people. That’s right, the obsessive need to record all aspects of our lives is more deadly than sharks.

Still, you can’t explain to a great white that statistically, he’s not supposed to eat you. Best to lower your odds even further by arming yourself with a little knowledge.

So even though it probably won’t happen to you….here’s what to do in case you find yourself face-to-face with one of these toothy killing machines.

Shark Attack Prevention (How to Stay Off the Tasting Menu)

Upclose image of a shark

As with most stuff that kills you, a little prevention can go a long way. Here are some ways to avoid an encounter with a shark in the first place.

Avoid Their Favorite Hangouts

Like river mouths, these turbid, silty waters are a high danger area when it comes to attacks. Especially after a storm when fish and other animals are swept out to sea. Other places to avoid? Harbor entrances, steep drop-offs and rocky underwater cliffs.

If you’re going to hang out in their hood, expect to be swimming with the sharks.

Don’t Bleed In The Water

Yes, this may seem obvious. And as humans, most of us try to avoid bleeding in general. The point is that sharks can get a whiff of even the tiniest amount of blood from over a mile away and track it down to its source.

So if you have a small cut or get a cut while swimming, get out of the water quickly.

Some of you ladies may be wondering if this applies to menstrual blood. Unfortunately, the jury is out on this one. Some sources like the Florida Museum at the University of Florida advise you to stay on shore. Other sources, including Penn Medicine, are skeptical.

The fact is there haven’t really been any studies. And can you imagine signing up for that experiment? I don’t think so.

Ultimately the call is yours. But it would suck if menstruating did up your chances for becoming shark bait. I mean, like the cramps aren’t enough?

Quit Peeing in the Ocean

You know who you are. Actually, it’s probably most of us. But surfers and divers probably take more leaks in the ocean than the average person.

Just like menstrual blood, there is some controversy as to whether urine attracts sharks.

According to Richard Pierce, sharks have a nose for pee-pee and can easily track down its source. But in a 2012 study by National Geographic in which they dumped urine into shark-infested waters, there was no significant change in their behavior.

Again, evidence is scant here. And personally, I would not sign up for a study where I had to pee in shark-infested waters.

But to err on the side of caution, you might want to refrain from conducting your own one-person experiment and try not to pee when you’re in the ocean.

Stay Away From Fishing Boats

It doesn’t matter if it’s a small boat of weekend warriors or a larger operation. When fish are caught, they tend to bleed and splash around in the water. Then there’s the blood and guts that people throw off their boats.

All of this signals mealtime to a shark.

You want to avoid becoming chum yourself? Steer clear.

Watch Out For Dolphins and Sea Birds

It’s always magical to spot a group of dolphins. But if they’re hanging out along with a bunch of seabirds, it’s probably because they’re hunting a large school of fish. Which means there are probably sharks around too.

Don’t want to be on the surf and turf menu? Best to stay out of the water in this situation.

Don’t Swim Near Seal or Sea Lion Communities

Seals and sea lions are prey for sharks. So if you’re near one of these communities, more than likely, there’s a shark in the vicinity waiting for a chubby, innocent victim. Don’t let that be you.

Keep an Eye on The Surrounding Sea Life

Okay, say you’re in the water with just a few fish around. If you’re lucky maybe a turtle. Suddenly, they all start acting weird and dart off. Chances are it means that something wicked comes their way.

Take a clue from the locals and make yourself scarce.

Don’t Swim at Dawn, Dusk or Night

Sharks hunt at all hours of the day and night. But many shark attacks on humans are cases of mistaken identity. And because visibility is reduced at those hours, they could bite you by mistake.

Even if they swim off afterward (the shark equivalent of “ooh, this tastes kind of funny”), their exploratory bite could be devastating.

Don’t Wear Your Bling in the Water

That shiny piece of jewelry looks a lot like shimmering fish scales to a shark. What can we say? Sharks can sniff out one drop of blood in several million parts of water, but they can’t see the logo on your designer necklace.

Also, fluorescent colors like yellow and orange make you look like a tropical fish. Better to be a plain Jane in the water.

Swim, Surf and Dive in a Group

Sharks usually attack individuals. Though it won’t guarantee your safety altogether, you’re safer with buddies.

Related: 15 Of The World’s Best Nude Beaches [Sun’s Out, Buns Out]

What To Do When It’s Game On With A Shark

If, despite the odds, you find yourself being circled by a shark, don’t give up hope. Here’s what to do and not to do so you can (hopefully) live to tell about it.

Stay Calm

Yes, this statement seems like the height of ridiculousness. After all, you’re being circled by a deadly predator. But if you want to make it back to shore, you have to keep your cool.

If you start to splash around and panic, it’s like foreplay to a shark. It’s only going to excite him more.

Don’t Lose Eye Contact

It’s not that sharks won’t make a full-frontal attack. But they prefer to sneak up on you from behind because they’re ambush predators. So if the shark starts to circle, swivel around with it and maintain eye contact.

This is a staring contest that you don’t want to lose.

Gauge Whether the Shark Is Interested Or Just Passing Through

According to shark expert and former chairman of the UK-based Shark Trust Charity, if a shark is in attack mode, you should try to make yourself as big as possible in the water. As Pierce comments, “The bigger you are in the water, the more respect you’ll get.”

However, if a shark seems uninterested Pierce, advises you to roll up in a ball so that you don’t look like a competitor for its food source and give it a reason to attack you.

Pierce shares, “If I didn’t want to be seen by a great white as a competitor, and if it wasn’t showing massive interest in me, I would curl up so he shows even less interest in me.”

Of course distinguishing the difference could be dicey. So don’t close your eyes.

Cut Off Possible Attack Angles

As mentioned, sharks like the “gotcha” approach and will often try to attack you from behind. If there’s a seawall or reef near, put your back against it so that you can keep the shark in front of you.

If there’s not a reef around, but you’re swimming with a buddy ( as you should be), put yourselves back to back so the shark will always have eyes on him. This is where having your friend’s back becomes very literal.

Don’t Play Dead

Sharks are not bears, and playing dead in an aggressive counter will not help your cause. If you want to fend him off, you will have to fight by kicking, punching and poking his most sensitive areas. This is not the playground and you don’t have to fight fair.

Aim For the Gills, Eyes and Snout (with a caveat)

You’ve probably heard that punching a shark in the nose will scare him off. And it might, but there’s a not so small problem here: it’s right above his mouth. If you hit him here, make sure that your fist doesn’t end up in his teeth.

That might be easier said than done as neither of you will be standing still. Also, don’t wind up for a big punch as that won’t give you more force underwater.

If you have any object that could be used as a weapon – a camera, your snorkel, a club, a rock, freaking anything – put it into action and smack him with it.

A shark’s eyes and gills are two very sensitive places. Gouging or hitting him here with an improvised weapon could do the trick. If you’re a diver or snorkeler you may want to keep a shark billy on you  (it’s a metal rod a couple of feet long).

As Pierce tells us, “I’ve had a lot of sharks come at me, and it’s (been) enough to use a shark billy….I’ve just given them a little nudge on their nose.”

Don’t Try to Outswim the Shark

Maybe you’ve given the shark a nudge and scared him off for good or temporarily. This is not where you turn around and swim like hell for the shore while splashing around.

This is where you back very slowly away while trying not to splash at all. Try to swim backwards towards the shore (or boat if one is near). But don’t become careless in the shallows. Even very large sharks can still attack here.

Stay aware and calm until you’re back on shore or aboard a vessel.

Fun Shark Facts (Well, sort of…)

Shark swimming on the ocean floor

Hopefully, you’re never in a situation where you have to put any of the above shark hacks to work. And most likely, you never will be.

But if you’re thirsting to know a little more, here are a few more facts about sharks. Hey, knowledge is power.

Shark Attacks Were Down in 2019

There were 64 unprovoked shark attacks in 2019, a considerable drop from the five- year average of 82 between 2014 and 2018. Of those attacks, only two were fatal.

There’s some good news!

53% of Attacks Involve Board Sports and Surfers

It’s all that splashing that goes with the sport. Here’s a stat on the rest of the attacks. 25% involve swimmers, 11% involve divers and snorkelers, and 8% involve body surfers.

Great Whites Are the Deadliest Shark

The second deadliest is the Tiger Shark. And unlike the great white, who may release his prey if he doesn’t like the taste, Tigers sharks are less picky. In other words, they don’t usually take a bit and swim away.

And taking third for the most dangerous shark in the world is the bull sharks. And this highly aggressive species is known to haunt the shallows.

Florida’s New Smyrna Beach near Daytona is known as the “shark bite capital of the world”

In 2019, 9 sharks attacks took place here. That’s 43% of all the incidents that took place in the entire state. Make sure you follow all the safety regulations when you decide to vacation here.

The Most Jaws Dropping Fact (Pun Intended)

Sharks may be painted as evil killing machines that haunt our oceans, but they are actually necessary predators that keep the sea healthy. Because they prevent certain species from becoming too invasive, they support diversity and protect the food chain.

The fact is that we are far more dangerous to sharks than they are to us. Over 100,000 million sharks are killed worldwide each year. Considering there were only 1,400 deadly shark attacks on humans between 1837 and 2017 in the US, they don’t even begin to touch our numbers on them.

Still, if you’re unlucky enough to have an encounter with one of these predators, stay calm, maintain eye contact and hit them in the eyes, gills and nose with everything you’ve got.

To sum it up, go big and you may get to go home.

You might also be interested in: The 13 Most Dangerous Beaches In The World [Jelly’s, Sharks and Riptides, Oh My!]

Sherry De Alba

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