Ba dump! Ba dump! Ba dump, ba dump, ba dump! Badump badump badump!
Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past forty years knows exactly what that ominous strain means: Shark attack! From Jaws to Sharknado!, the fear of great white sharks has been fueled by the media and popular culture for eons, and as a result, nothing strikes fear in our hearts quite like a dorsal fin approaching in open water.
But despite their fearsome reputation, great white sharks are hardly deserving of the killing machine label we’ve slapped on them. In fact, only 75 shark attacks occur worldwide every year, resulting in just 4 deaths. Most attacks are provoked, and those that aren’t are usually a case of mistaken identity.
Sharks Don’t Like How We Taste
See, sharks don’t eat humans. They don’t enjoy the way we taste, and their slow metabolism makes it hard for them to digest our numerous bones. But they also don’t have the best vision, and so when a shark sees your lily-white legs dangling in the water as you paddle around on your surfboard, it thinks you’re lunch. One big chomp of your flesh later, and the shark usually swims away in disgust.
Unfortunately, you’re left bleeding and broken, but chances are, you’ll survive: out of the 179 shark attacks reported in the U.S. between 2006 and 2010, only 3 resulted in fatality. According to those numbers, you have a 98.4 percent chance of surviving a shark attack.
Human Attacks On Sharks Are MUCH More Common
Unfortunately, the poor sharks aren’t so lucky. Humans are the number one threat to shark populations, killing between 20 and 30 million great whites alone every single year. As a result, the great white shark is listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List and is on the verge of earning endangered status.
Still, when it’s your limbs dangling in the water and a shark is approaching, none of those statistics really matter. All you’re worried about is survival, and these tips can help increase your chances of not becoming one of the 1.6 percent of attack victims who meet their end by way of shark.
Avoiding Shark-Infested Waters is Your First Defense
Swimming in shark-infested waters is like issuing a shark a formal invitation to tea. Staying out of the water when sharks are nearby will decrease your chances of being attacked by 100 percent. If you can’t resist the lure of the crystal waters and crashing waves, exercising extreme caution when in the water will considerably reduce your risk of being attacked.
- When visiting a coastal area on vacation, ask the locals or the local tourism office whether sharks are known to frequent the waters. If so, you should probably stay on the beach, or at least stay close to the shore if you do go for a swim, and keep your eyes peeled for the telltale dorsal fin approaching.
- Don’t go into shark-infested waters if you’re bleeding, which includes menstruation. Sharks can smell a single drop of blood in 25 gallons of water, and they can smell you bleeding from three miles away.
- It should go without saying that if you’re in the water and a shark is nearby, you shouldn’t provoke it. But unfortunately, it must be said, because there are those who will try to pet or feed a shark, and in fact, more than half of all shark attacks are provoked.
- Stay out of water where fishermen are nearby with bait or bait-loaded lines. Telltale signs of baited lines in the water include diving seabirds and groups of dolphins skulking around in the area, and telltale signs of sharks nearby include agitated sea turtles and fish.
- Don’t wear shiny jewelry in the water, which appears to sharks to be fish scales, and don’t wear bright or contrasting colors, which catch the attention of nearby sharks.
- Always swim in a group. Sharks usually attack lone individuals.
- Stay out of the water at dusk, dawn, and at night, when sharks are most active. Use extra caution when you’re near a sand bar or steep drop-off, both of which are favorite haunts for sharks.
- Don’t splash a lot in waters frequented by sharks, which are highly sensitive to vibrations and translate them as a meal waiting to happen.
How Do Shark Attacks Happen?
Shark attacks close to shore are usually of the hit-and-run variety. The shark will bump you, take a quick bite, realize you’re disgusting, and swim away. These attacks are rarely fatal.
In deeper water farther from shore, the shark is probably going to sneak up on you. You won’t see it coming, but suddenly you’ll feel a violent bump and the next thing you know, your internal organs are seeing daylight for the first time ever. These attacks are more often fatal, but there’s still a good chance you’ll survive. Just look at poor Rodney Fox, an Australian who was attacked by a shark in 1963, leaving him with his arm sliced to the bone, all of his ribs crushed on the left side, his upper stomach and lungs held in only by his wet suit, his diaphragm punctured, lung ripped open, and main heart artery exposed.
Four hundred sixty-two stitches and months of healing later, Fox devoted his life to studying, filming and observing great white sharks, and he was the first person in Australia to fight for shark protection laws. As a result, the great white shark became a protected species in Australia.
Now, there’s a man who holds no grudges!
What to Do If Your Biggest Nightmare Comes True
So there you are, a couple hundred yards from shore, enjoying the warm, rocking ocean waters, when suddenly you see a dorsal fin approaching. There’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be involved in an altercation with a shark in the next few minutes, and there are a few things you can do to increase your odds of survival.
- Stay as calm as possible. Panicking means splashing, and splashing (to a shark) means food. Try to get back to shore, but swim as smoothly as you can. This is a good time to start screaming bloody murder to warn other swimmers and let people on shore know that they might want to call for help.
- When the shark is upon you, go for the eyes or the gills. If you go for the snout, you might miss and end up with your arm in its mouth. But don’t over-think it too much. The rule of thumb for surviving a shark attack is to do whatever you need to do in order to stay in one piece.
- If you’re out with a friend, get back-to-back and use your legs and fists to fight off an attack.
- As soon as the shark retreats, get back to shore, and warn other swimmers to get out of the water.