Prevent a Shark Attack
- Stay out of shark-infested waters. The surest way to
avoid shark attack is to stay out of water where sharks live. This
of course means staying out of the ocean, but it also means staying
out of estuaries and coastal rivers and lakes. The dangerous bull
shark, in particular, can tolerate fresh water, and these large
sharks are known to travel up rivers far inland. In fact, they have
been spotted 2,500 miles up the Amazon and as far up the
Mississippi River as Illinois. If you can't avoid getting in the
water altogether, at least try to avoid danger zones.
- Heed warnings. Coastal areas where sharks have recently
been sighted will often have posted warnings, and even in the
absence of these, local people may be able to alert you to
potential dangers. Stay out of the water if warned to do so.
- Avoid steep dropoffs and the areas between sandbars.
These are among sharks' favorite haunts.
- Avoid waters contaminated with effluents or sewage.
Sharks are drawn to these areas. Of course, that's not the only
reason to avoid polluted water.
- Avoid swimming near fishing activity. Sharks may come in
for a snack off fishermen's nets or lines, and they may be
attracted by bait or by discarded fish. Even in the absence of
fishing boats, if you see seabirds swooping down to the water,
there's a good chance there's fishing activity or feeding going
- Know your shark. There are more than 300 species of
sharks, but very few of these are considered dangerous to humans.
In fact, three species--the white, tiger, and bull sharks--are
responsible for the vast majority of human fatalities. These sharks
are widely distributed in coastal waters throughout the world, and
if you see them or know they are present you should exit the water
as soon as safely possible. The oceanic whitetip shark is more
common in the open ocean and can also be aggressive. Find out what
kinds of sharks may be present where you will be entering the
water, but keep in mind that any shark over 6 feet in length should
be considered potentially dangerous.
- Carry a weapon. If you're diving in waters where you're
likely to encounter sharks, carry a speargun or pole-spear. By no
means should you provoke an attack or lull yourself into a false
sense of security with these weapons, but if you are attacked they
may save your life.
- Dress appropriately. Stick to dull swim wear and wet suits, as bright or flashy colors with high contrast can attract
sharks. Avoid wearing jewelry, as the reflection of light off such
accessories is similar to the reflection of light off a fish's
scales, and it can thus make you look like food. Cover your diving
watch with the cuff of your wetsuit. Similarly, avoid or cover
uneven tanning, as the contrast makes you more visible to shark.
The bright yellows and oranges typical of life jackets and
flotation devices can be attractive to sharks, but if you're in the
open ocean you need to consider that these colors also make you
more visible to rescuers.
- Be vigilant. You may encounter any number of hazards
when diving, surfing, or swimming in the ocean or coastal rivers,
and you should always be wary. Proceed with caution in whatever you
do, and be aware of your environment. If you spot a shark, don't
let it out of your sight until you're safely on shore or in the
- Move gracefully. Avoid splashing on the surface of the
water, and try to swim smoothly at all times. Avoid sudden or
erratic movements when in the presence of sharks, as these may draw
attention to you and, worse yet, give you the appearance of being
wounded. If you see a shark nearby while you're diving, stay as
still as possible to avoid attracting its attention or threatening
- Swim in a group. Regardless of the danger of sharks, you
should avoid swimming alone. If sharks are present, however, it's
even more important to travel with a buddy or a group. Sharks are
less likely to approach and attack a group of people, and if one
member of the group is attacked, help is immediately available.
When diving in the presence of sharks, one member of the group
should be charged solely with watching the sharks and detecting
changes in their behavior.
- Recognize aggressive behavior. Sharks swimming slowly
and smoothly are generally not a threat. They may approach divers
but are generally just curious when they do so. If a shark begins
making sudden movements, swimming quickly or erratically, or if it
shows signs of aggression or irritation--pointing its pectoral fins
down, arching its back, pointing its head upward, zig-zagging, or
charging--it may be considering an attack. Swim quickly and
smoothly to safety, either out of the water or to a defensible
location, and prepare to defend yourself.
- Stay out of the water at night and during dawn and dusk.
Sharks hunt most actively at these times, and they're harder for
you to see in dark conditions.
- Stay out of the water if bleeding. If you have an open
wound or you're menstruating, the blood can attract sharks and make
them more aggressive.
- Avoid provoking sharks. A little less than half of
documented shark attacks result from provocation or harassment of
sharks, particularly by divers. Use common sense, and give sharks
plenty of space. Do not attempt to catch or prod sharks. Don't
corner them, and don't try to get close to them to photograph them.
But, if you have to get close, be sure to carry a weapon. (Look at
What to do
1. Hit back. If a shark is coming toward you or attacks you, use anything you have in your possession—a camera, probe, harpoon gun, your fist—to hit the shark's eyes or gills, which are the areas most sensitive to pain.
2. Make quick, sharp, repeated jabs in these areas. Since sharks are predators and will usually only follow through on an attack if they have the advantage, making the shark unsure of its advantage in any way possible will increase your chances of survival. Contrary to popular opinion, the shark’s nose is not the area to attack, unless you cannot reach the eyes or gills. Hitting the shark simply tells it that you are not defenseless.
How to Avoid an Attack
1. Always stay in groups—sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.
Do not wander too far from shore. This isolates you and creates the additional danger of being too far from assistance.
Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours, when sharks
are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.
Do not enter the water if you are bleeding from an open wound or if you
are menstruating—a shark is drawn to blood and its olfactory ability is
4. Try not to wear shiny jewelry because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by
sport or commercial fishermen, especially if there are signs of bait
fish or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such
Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid showing any uneven
tanning and brightly-colored clothing—sharks see contrast particularly
If a shark shows itself to you, it may be curious rather than predatory
and will probably swim on and leave you alone. If you are under the
surface and lucky enough to see an attacking shark, then you do have a
good chance of defending yourself if the shark is not too large.
Scuba divers should avoid lying on the surface, where they may look
like a piece of prey to a shark, and from where they cannot see a shark
A shark attack is a potential danger for anyone who frequents marine
waters, but it should be kept in perspective. Bees, wasps, and snakes
are responsible for far more fatalities each year, and in the United
States the annual risk of death from lightning is 30 times greater than
from shark attack.
Survive a Shark Attack
- Remain calm. While you
want to get out of water quickly if a shark attacks, you cannot
outrun a shark in the water, and simply trying to sprint to safety
may not be your best option. It's important to keep your wits about
you so you can continuously appraise the situation and figure out
how to get to safety. Sharks are highly instinctual, like dogs in a
way: They have "fear" sonar and if you feel fear - even if not
displaying it overtly - they sense it and that fear will stimulate
their instinct to attack. It may take an instant black-belt, but
your spiritual stance is very crucial.
Keep your eye on the shark at all times. Sharks may retreat
temporarily and then try to sneak up on you. Don't let this happen.
To be able to defend against the shark, you must know where it is,
so make every effort to watch the animal, even as you're trying to
- Get into a defensible position. If you can't get out of
the water right away, try to reduce the shark's possible angles of
attack. If you're diving, back up against a reef, piling, or rock
outcropping--any solid obstruction--so that you only have to defend
attacks in front of you. If you're diving near the shore, you may
need to descend to find cover. In open water, get back-to-back with
another swimmer or diver so that you can see, and defend against,
an attack from any direction. Gradually surface together to get
back to the boat.
- Fight. Playing
dead won't deter an aggressive shark. Your best bet if attacked
is to make the shark see you as a strong, credible threat. Usually,
a hard blow to the shark's gills, eyes, or--to a lesser extent--the
tip of its nose will cause the shark to retreat. These are really
the only vulnerable areas on a shark. If a shark continues to
attack, or if it has you in its mouth, hit these areas repeatedly
with hard jabs, and claw at the eyes and gills.
- If you have a spear gun or pole, use it! Aim for the
head, specifically the eyes or the gills.
- If you don't have a weapon, improvise. Use any inanimate
object, such as a camera or a rock to ward off the
- If you have nothing around you, use your own body. Aim
for the shark's eyes, gills, or snout with your fists, elbows,
knees, and feet.
- Get out of the water. While there are a number of things
you can do to ward off a shark attack, you're not truly safe until
you're out of the water. Your goal should always be to get back to
shore or back on the boat.
- If a boat is nearby, call out calmly, but loudly, for
them to come to you. Stay as still as possible while waiting--as
long as the shark is not actively attacking you--and get into the
boat as quickly as possible once the boat reaches you.
- If you are near shore, swim quickly, but smoothly. Thrashing will attract the
shark's attention. Erratic movements may also give the appearance
that you are wounded, and a wounded animal is more attractive prey
to a shark. Use the smooth reverse breast stroke. This will reduce
- Get medical attention. If you've been bitten, get
treatment as soon as possible. Massive blood loss will occur,
depending on where you've been bitten, so immediately take
appropriate precautions, (including, if necessary, the use of a
tourniquet), to stop the bleeding. Even if your wounds appear
minor, it's essential to get yourself checked out.
- There is currently no credible "shark repellent" commercially
available, although both an electronic device and a chemical that
appears to be effective have been developed in the past few years.
It may be available to consumers in the near future.
- Keep pets out of the water. Their splashing and erratic
movements, combined with their smaller size, may draw the attention
of aggressive sharks.
- If you are diving and have fish or abalone, (when spearfishing,
for example), do not tie your catch to your body. Make sure you can
quickly and easily release the catch if you see a shark, and let
your catch go and exit the area if a shark does show up. The shark
is likely more interested in your fish than it is in you.
- Shark cages are effective, but they severely limit your ability
to explore, and they're not useful for, or available to, most
divers and recreationists.
- While sharks inhabit oceans all over the world, attacks are
most frequent in Florida. Other "hotspots" include Australia,
Hawaii, South Africa, and California.
- Avoid swimming in murky or dirty water as this can increase the
chance of a shark mistaking you for one of their usual prey sources
(turtles, seals etc).
- Avoid entering the water in early mornings or late
evenings/night, as this is when sharks are generally most active
with their feeding and tend to move closer inshore.
- Where there are seals, there are likely sharks. Avoid swimming
or kayaking in coves where seals live.
Where to hit a shark