Will sharks attack me when I go scuba diving?
Hollywood has done much to sensationalize shark attacks on humans, they are also to blame for a lot of the fears that new divers have for sharks. Most divers have never even seen a large shark while scuba diving. When they do encounter one the shark is usually too timid to approach, such as nurses, greys and sand tigers. Most species are not to be feared. The shark that typically poses some danger is the Great White shark, but they are rare and usually reside in select areas like Northern California or Australia, and even then most will leave you alone if you leave it alone. Let me say that your chances of being struck by lightning, dying of a wasp sting, or a snake bite are a lot more than being attacked by a shark. In the United States for example, you are 30 times at a greater risk of death by lightning than shark attack.
In the rare case that you do encounter a shark while diving here are some tips to make it a safe encounter.
1: Don’t isolate yourself
If you are diving with a group, stay tight to that group. Sharks tend to single out prey items when in hunting or predatory mood and very rarely do they seize upon a large gathering of prey items all packed together in a “school”. Many people have successfully fended off inquisitive Sharks by forming “schools” or by sticking together. If you are a lone diver make yourself look big by stretching your arms and legs out. If possible use a nearby rock face or other structures such as a reef or piling to back yourself into, thus cutting off angles in which the Shark can get to you via, like from behind for example. Many Sharks use stealth mode to attack prey items. If you can see the Shark this is often a good sign.
2: Remain calm
It is always advised to remain calm in the water regardless as heavy breathing and panic can lead to complications. This is especially important around Sharks with some species being able to detect a racing heart beat and interpret this as a sign of fear. Panic can also lead to negative body language which could alert a Shark to your presence or draw it in for closer inspection. Remember these creatures prey on the sick and distressed, so always remain calm. Take relaxed and timed breaths and keep your focus. Some Sharks are also territorial and defend their space. They could misinterpret your panic and agitation as aggression and challenge you.
If you do panic and a Shark approaches, fend it off with whatever object you have on you, or using the flat of your hands, taking care not to target the jaw area. It is believed punching a Shark forcibly on the nose or gills area can have positive effects in warding off an inquisitive or rather aggressive Shark. Most Sharks if touched even, will swim off. For bigger and more predatory Sharks, however, your best bet is to get out of the water as quickly as possible.
3: Respect the Shark
Respect any creature you encounter underwater, more so Sharks. These creatures are not to be underestimated and can snap if provoked or if their space is encroached upon by an alien presence. Remember most Sharks won’t have encountered a Human before and may be more scared than you! Underwater there are no rules or laws protecting us, it is literally dog eat dog world so you must at all times respect the environment in which you are in and be ever mindful of not upsetting the balance of nature. Do not feed Sharks or punch them, do not grab at them or chase them. Keep a safe and respectful distance. If the Shark is harmless and enjoys your company then reciprocate the feeling but again, don’t take a placid yet inquisitive Shark for granted.
4: Blood & Urine
Sharks can detect a drop of blood in an Olympic size swimming pool and their taste, smell and hearing is far more advanced than our own. Blood attracts Sharks so it is wise to avoid Shark infested waters if you have an open wound or are menstruating. If you cut yourself while underwater, it is best advised to get out of the water. While no real hard evidence exists that supports an attraction to urine, many Shark experts have an open mind where this theory is concerned so go to the toilet before taking a dive and cut down on fluid intake leading up to your dive. You don’t want to urinate in front of a 15 foot Shark.
Sharks have an amazing sensory system that allows them to detect vibration changes and even sound changes in the water, a thrashing human will signal a distressed or sick prey item worthy of investigating for any hungry Shark so limit thrashing, again, keep calm.
6: Diving Attire
Try to avoid wearing high contrasting colors and do not wear any jewelry in the water. Sharks have an amazing sense of sight and metallic objects reflect back or may resemble fish scales. A Shark could mistake you for dinner and the shiny metallic could draw one in for a closer inspection. The mistaken identity theory where Shark Attacks are concerned is a very contentious issue and no real scientific proof exists to really back up these theories but Sharks can be fooled or tricked into believing a silhouette at the surface is a Seal or Sea Turtle for example, only when they take a bite can they really ascertain whether you are a prey item or not. Limit the risk factor.
7: Warning Signs
Being aware of your surroundings is an important safety factor. If there is a large predatory Shark in the water, you may sense something is lurking or sense danger ahead. Your instincts may signal you to stop, go back or be extra careful. Listen to this innate sense of yours, humans have a 6th sense and while we don’t always use this sense nor understand it that much, many divers have reported feeling uneasy before getting into the water, sensing a Shark’s presence. If you feel uneasy before your dive, don’t go into the water. If you feel uneasy while underwater, safely make your way to the surface or inform your dive partner or group. Never tempt fate.
There are too many real life stories of Shark Attack victims recounting pre-attack/encounter premonitions. Reading the reactions of other creatures underwater can also act as a warning sign. If you see Sea Turtles, Fish, Seals or other creatures suddenly flee the area or gather in large schools or a shoal, that is a sign that a predator is close by patrolling the area. Heed this warning. Likewise, if you are diving with Seals, a favorite prey item of the Great White, be extra vigilant. If the friendly Seal suddenly disappears that could be a warning sign. Many a diver swimming with Seals have been attacked by Great White’s, often fatal attacks.
When Sharks show signs of impending aggression or go into predatory/defense mode they make rushes at you, hunch their backs, lower their pectoral fins, and swim erratically, often in zig-zag motion or up and down. Larger more dangerous Sharks are subtler. Great White’s like to show their dominance, they do this by gaping, opening up their jaws to show their weapons. They also drop their pectoral fins and will come at you from side to side or ideally from behind or below – their favorite attack method. Very rarely do they make moves on prey items from within a direct line of sight. Other Sharks such as the Zambezi (Bull Shark) or Tiger Shark can just snap within the blink of an eye. They are very unpredictable so always keep your distance.
8: Spear fishing or Abalone Gathering
If you are Spear fishing or Abalone gathering and have your catch in hand, and encounter a Shark, let go of your catch and exit the area safely and without panic. The Shark is most likely attracted to your catch and the activity can act as a stimulant to the Shark’s senses. If a Shark ignores the catch and decides to check you out, fend it off using your Spear Gun or whatever other inanimate object you have on you, such as a knife.
9: At The Surface
Many divers have encountered or been attacked while breaching the surface from their dive, before heading off to the surface give your surroundings a good check over to see if there are any dark and large objects floating or lurking about. On the way to the surface try to form a vertical line, erratic movement may alert a Shark to your whereabouts. If you have catch in tow from Spear fishing or Abalone gathering and a Shark is in pursuit, release your catch immediately. Again, if the Shark ignores your catch and investigates you, use your Spear Gun or your knife to fend it off. Once you’ve reached the surface, get out the water in a calm and orderly fashion. You don’t want to dwell in the water for too long bobbing up and down, especially if you have bait in tow.
10: If You Are Attacked
If you are being attacked by a Shark, any Shark, you have to fight back otherwise you’re an even easier prey. Many humans have successfully fought off Sharks and survived to tell the tale. Hopefully you will never be put in this situation but if you are, fight, kick out, punch, grab and impose yourself on the Shark. Most Shark bites are the result of investigation, they take a bite and realize you aren’t their normal prey item so they swim off, leaving you bleeding and distressed. It is important you get out of the water as quickly as possible if this is the case because you could bleed to death or attract other Sharks who may not be so fussy. Sharks’ weak spots are their gills, snout and their eyes. Attack those using as much force as you can.
If you witness a Shark attack while underwater or at the surface, or even on your boat, you have to help. Very rarely do rescuers become the target of an attack, indeed in many cases the presence of extra Human’s has proved successful in warding off aggressive or attacking Sharks.
If you encounter a Shark underwater, warn any dive partners or your dive group. When on land report your sighting to the lifeguard or local authorities. Vigilance is the first line of defense against potential Shark related hazards.