Imagine enjoying a refreshing swim in the ocean when suddenly, you spot a shark nearby. The Jaws theme starts playing in your head and you feel a sense of impending doom. What do you do?
When encountering a shark, you must stay as calm as possible and maintain eye contact with it. Don’t allow it to swim into your blind spot. If a shark gets too close, hit it on its snout, eyes, or gills to startle it off. Avoid swimming alone, at dawn, dusk, or nighttime, or in a bright swimsuit.
In this article, we’ll discuss some practical tips to ensure your safety and the appropriate course of action if you ever find yourself face-to-face with a shark.
What to Do If You See a Shark While Swimming
Stay Calm and Maintain Eye Contact
First and foremost, it’s crucial that you stay calm if you spot a shark while swimming. Panicking can create more problems, so take a deep breath and gather your composure. This tip is so important that I will repeat it several times throughout this article.
Try to maintain eye contact with the shark, as they are less likely to approach prey that is aware of their presence. Remember that the majority of shark species are harmless, but being vigilant is crucial.
Always face towards the shark so that it is never in your blind spot. As long as the shark sees you facing it, it will be wary about making a move since you are so guarded.
Swim Slowly and Avoid Excess Splashing
When you see a shark, resist the urge to swim away quickly, as rapid movement and splashing can attract the predator to you. That is why staying calm is so important.
Instead, swim slowly and smoothly towards the shore or a nearby boat. Avoid any sudden movements, which might increase the risk of a shark attack.
Keep your fins and arms close to your body, as this can minimize your profile in the water, making you less appealing to the shark.
Defend Yourself If Necessary
In the rare case that a shark comes too close, you must be prepared to defend yourself. If a shark attacks, use an inanimate object, like a snorkel or camera, to hit its sensitive snout.
If you don’t have any objects available, use your fists or elbows to strike the shark’s snout. You can also try aiming for its eyes or gills, as these are also sensitive parts of a shark’s body.
Would hitting a shark anger it? No, it’s more likely to startle it, as it doesn’t expect prey to fight back and doesn’t want to risk injury itself. If you want to learn more about shark behavior, we discuss this in more detail in the next section.
Understanding Shark Behavior
Sharks and Humans
Sharks are fascinating creatures that play an important role in the ocean’s ecosystem. As apex predators, they maintain balance by feeding on other fish and marine animals.
But are they as bloodthirsty and as dangerous as how they are typically portrayed in movies? While they are certainly dangerous, they rarely actively seek out humans.
You need to remember that sharks typically see us as just another big fish, and not a preferred meal. In general, sharks are solitary animals, and they don’t travel in groups.
When you’re swimming in the ocean, try to avoid murky waters or excess splashing, which might attract sharks. Also don’t bring food just to attract a shark for a photo, because you might get more than you bargained for.
Additionally, swimming with a group of people can deter shark attacks, as sharks may be intimidated by a larger presence.
Shark Attacks: Facts and Misconceptions
While shark attacks on humans do occur, they are extremely rare.
According to the International Shark Attack File, the odds of being attacked by a shark in the United States are 1 in 11.5 million. The chances of a fatal shark attack are even less at 0 in 264.1 million.
Yes, you read that right, some years there were literally no shark fatalities reported in the US! Maintaining perspective is crucial when entering the ocean. Instead of getting caught up in the news networks’ fear mongering, learn the real statistics.
In many cases, sharks will “test-bite” an unfamiliar object, which unfortunately can sometimes be a person. Staying calm and maintaining eye contact can help dissuade a shark from taking further interest in you.
Sharks’ Normal Prey and Hunting Methods
Sharks primarily feed on fish, seals, and other marine life. They rely on their keen sense of smell and ability to detect electrical signals from their prey’s muscles and movement.
If you are swimming with seals or other fish in the water, avoid wearing shiny objects or clothing as they can mimic the appearance of a fish’s scales.
Remember, sharks are not out to actively harm humans. By understanding their behavior and taking some basic precautions, you can safely coexist with these majestic ocean dwellers.
Preventing Shark Encounters
Swimming in Safe Areas
If you’re really worried about encountering a shark while swimming, try to pick a location where sharks are not commonly seen.
Avoid swimming near sandbars, areas with large seal populations, or places where birds are actively feeding since these tend to attract sharks looking for food.
Stick to well-populated beaches with lifeguards on duty, as they often have better information about shark sightings and activity in the area.
Understanding Shark Habitats and Times of Activity
Knowing when and where sharks are active can help you reduce the likelihood of encountering one. Sharks, like the bull shark and tiger shark, are most active at dawn, dusk, and nighttime. Do your best to avoid swimming in the ocean during these times.
Additionally, you should stay in shallow water and close to the shore whenever possible, as sharks often hunt in deeper waters. If you spot signs of a shark nearby, such as a fin or unusual movement in the water, calmly and quickly return to dry land.
Wearing Proper Swim Gear
What you wear in the water plays a role in preventing shark encounters. Avoid wearing shiny jewelry, as its shine can mimic fish scales and attract sharks.
In terms of swimsuits and wetsuits, opt for solid, muted colors instead of bright or contrasting patterns, as these can make you stand out.
For a time, researchers recommended not wearing yellow wetsuits, nicknaming the color “yum yum yellow” because it seemed that sharks tended to notice the color yellow more.
However, based on current research, it is believed that sharks are actually colorblind, and that they “noticed” the color yellow because of how much it contrasted the ocean backdrop.
To be safe, you should just stick with a black wetsuit so that you don’t stand out like a sore thumb to a shark.