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How to Protect Yourself from Shark Attacks

Updated on July 24, 2015

Part 1: Understand the basics of shark attacks

1. Shark attacks are rare.

First and foremost, understand that shark attacks are VERY rare - there are typically around a dozen per year in the United States. Of those, most involve a shark biting and letting go when it realizes you're a human. While you should always take steps to protect your personal safety, remember to keep risks in perspective.

2. Most shark attacks are caused by mistaken prey.

By and large, sharks don't like to attack people. People are too bony to make good eatin'. They also tend to fight back, which makes them a high-risk target with little reward. Sharks attack people when they mistake them for their favorite prey, which are seals and fish. To a shark, a surfer paddling a surfboard looks a lot like a seal when viewed from below. Shiny jewelry also catches sharks' eyes because it looks like fish scales to them.

3. Sharks like deep water.

Sharks, especially the ones big enough that they would see a human as prey, swim in deep waters, and only come into shallower waters when following prey. A lot of sharks won't go into water that's less than about 12 feet deep without a reason. It's very uncommon for sharks to swim in water that's less than 5 feet deep.

Part 2: Situational awareness is key.

The single best advice to minimize the risk of any situation - including while you're at the beach - is to stay aware of your surroundings. Your best bet is to watch for indicators of shark activity and act smartly in response.

Some risk factors to consider:

  • Is there a lifeguard on duty who would alert swimmers if a shark was spotted?
  • Are there other people around who would be able to help you, or to call for help if you needed it?
  • How deep is the water?
  • Have there been other shark sightings or attacks around that area?
  • Do your swim buddies know how to react if a shark is spotted or attacks?
  • Sharks are attracted by blood, so are you bleeding or do you have any cuts?
  • Are there fins circling you?

Keep an eye on those around you, too, and don't be shy about spreading information that could help protect others.

Part 3: So you spot a shark...

1. Don't panic.

Your instinct will tell you to get away as quickly as possible when there's a shark nearby. While you should definitely get away, panic clouds your judgment and reduces your ability to react smartly.

2. Move straight to shore as quickly as you can.

Provided that there's not a shark between you and the shore, get out of the water. Sudden movements get sharks' attention, though, so it's best to not flail around.

3. Notify others.

Without creating mass panic (good luck with that) let everybody around know that you just spotted a shark.

4. Don't lose sight of it.

Keep the shark in view at all times. If it goes underwater, do your best to keep an eye on the area you think it's in, and its last location. Relay this information to the others around you. If it starts coming toward you, don't turn your back on it.

5. If you're unable to get to shore, grab something with which you could defend yourself.

A rock, stick, knife, fishing spear, anything that you could use to bludgeon, poke, or club a shark with is better than using only your bare hands. Continue trying to get to shore, though - don't pick a fight with a shark.


Part 4: ... And it bites you.

If the worse case happens and you're bitten by a shark, here's what to do:

1. Try not to panic.

Tough as it will certainly be, controlling your panic instinct is vital to smartly neutralizing the shark threat. Your goal is to get yourself to safety, but in the meantime, if you have to:

2. Fight back.

Most sharks will chomp down and let go immediately. If one bites down and doesn't release you, fight back by punching or clawing it in the eyes and the gills. If you have a rock or other weapon, use it as best you can. The eyes and gills are better targets than the nose. Hitting one of them will often make a shark lose interest.

3. Get away as soon as you can.

If you're able, continue getting to shore as soon as possible. If you can't make it to shore, signal for help. Sharks will follow blood in the water to you. You might be in a lot of pain, but this is one of the instances in which I'd tell you to toughen up, buttercup, because the cost of staying in the water near sharks can be far greater than the pain that you'll feel getting to shore.

4. Get medical care.

Immediately signal for medical care. Call 911 or have a swim buddy or lifeguard do it for you. In the meantime, attempt to keep your wounds clean, and begin first aid if you can, or have another begin for you. Cover wounds and apply pressure with a towel. Don't panic. If you're experiencing heavy blood loss, cover and elevate the injury and apply pressure at pressure points to slow blood loss. Most sharkbites are located on the lower limbs.

5. Notify others.

If a small shark nibbles on you but doesn't chomp down, still get out of the water and let everybody know. If there's one shark out there, there are likely more.

Part 5: What NOT to do:

When you see a shark:

  • Don't play dead. The shark will think you're an easy target.
  • Don't lose sight of or turn your back on a shark that you've spotted. Lose sight, lose the fight.
  • Don't panic. Sure, it's tough to control yourself that much, but it can be done. Do your best to stay calm and get out of the water.
  • Don't stay in the water. Get out and notify others.

If you have to fight back, don't try to punch it on the nose. Instead, try to punch or claw it on its eyes and gills. Use any weapon you can get your hands on - a rock, most likely - to bludgeon it on its eyes and gills.

Don't take your dog swimming if you're worried about shark attacks. Dogs make easier targets for sharks than people.


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