Stay Safe in Shark-Infested Waters: 10 Expert Tips and Tricks

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Daniel is a copywriter who has well and truly been bitten alive by the 'travel bug'. After ticking off several North American National Parks and exploring Europe by train, his sights are now set on South East Asia. Usually with at least one camera locked and loaded, you'll find Daniel wherever there are mountains, lakes or beaches.

For many of us, our first experience of sharks came from hiding behind the sofa, gripped by fear, as the terrifying scenes from Jaws played out on our TV.

The 1975 blockbuster gave sharks quite the reputation, with generations fearing what lies beneath our waters. Shark attacks are actually quite rare, but it’s always good to be prepared if you do find yourself face-to-face with these beautiful but, at times, dangerous creatures.

Avoid River Mouths

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“Steer clear of estuaries,” warns Richard Peirce, a respected author, shark expert, and former chair of both the UK-based Shark Trust and Shark Conservation Society.

These waters, often murky, hold a particular allure for bull sharks, known to be among the most likely to pose a threat to humans, alongside great whites and tiger sharks.

Peirce explained, “A significant number of attacks happen at river mouths, where suspended silt and other materials draw people who are washing their clothes or themselves.”

Keep Away From Fishing Boats

Fishing boat
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Take a moment to glance across the horizon before diving into the sea. If you see any fishing boats, head back to the beach and call it a day.

“Whether the fishing activity is commercial or recreational, material will often be being discarded, and unwanted dead fish, fish parts and the action of gutting fish are all putting chum in the water and inviting attention from sharks,” Peirce said.

Another top tip is to scan for any groups of fish jumping out of the water. This could signal that a larger predator is nearby, with the smaller fish trying to throw themselves around to avoid being eaten.

Learn From the Experts

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If you’re headed to a new location, it’s a good idea to spend some time researching the local wildlife. If you’re likely to meet a species you have yet to encounter, learn how they operate and how best to avoid them.

Lifeguards are usually clued up on the wildlife their beaches are home to. It’s their job to protect you, so they will be more than happy to inform you of the dangers and best practices you can follow.

No Bling When Swimming

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Sharks use the light flickering off the scales of smaller fish to target their prey. So make sure to take off all your jewelry before venturing into the ocean. In unclear waters, a shark could easily mistake your bracelet for the scales of a small fish! 

Stick to Day Time Swimming

Day time swim
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Shark attacks are most likely to take place during dawn or dusk, so you’re best off avoiding those early morning or late night swims.

When visibility is poor, sharks are more likely to mistake you as their prey. During daytime hours, the surface of the sea is far more visible for sharks swimming below.

Trust Your Gut

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Many people who have been attacked by sharks claim they felt odd sensations before it began. At the end of the day, we all evolved to avoid and survive attacks like this, so listening to that deep-rooted instinct is very important. If something just doesn’t feel right, and you can’t put your finger on what it is, skip your swim that day and come back tomorrow.

Stay Calm

Shark and diver
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Easy to say in theory, but it is vital you try to stay as calm as you can if you encounter a shark.

“Don’t start splashing around – you’re just going to excite, incite and encourage the shark’s interest,” said Peirce.

Unlike humans, sharks don’t have arms or hands to explore or better understand their surroundings. That means it will use its mouth to see what an object is. “That’s why we often get exploratory bites which don’t result in death and sometimes don’t even result in serious injury. If you go swimming and splashing away, you’re almost inviting the shark to come give you an exploratory or an attack bite.”

Don’t Look Away

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As the shark begins to swim around you, make sure to follow it with your head, never breaking eye contact.

“Sharks are ambush predators,” Peirce explained. “If you’re turning around and facing it the whole time while it circles you, it’s not going to be half as comfortable as if it’s able to sneak up from behind.”

You will never be able to outswim a shark, so you need to show yourself as capable and strong. If you are on a surfboard, make sure to maneuver the board, so it is always facing the shark.

Change Your Size

Diver shark
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Going slightly against the previous tip, making yourself appear bigger or smaller depends on the situation you find yourself in.

If the shark is clearly hunting you, you need to puff yourself up and come across as large as possible. “The bigger you are in the water, the more respect you’ll get,” Peirce said.

If the shark is just swimming by, you’re better off rolling up into a ball. “If a shark sees you as a competitor for its food source, that can be one reason it attacks you,” he explained.

Never Play Dead

Shark attack
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If a shark begins to attack, remember to get big and kick and punch like your life depends on it (because it does). Now is not the time to play dead.

You’ll want to do your best to aim for certain spots when attacking. “There’s all this talk about punching a shark in the nose. That’s OK, but remember that just underneath the nose is a mouth,” said Peirce.

“I’ve had a lot of sharks come at me, and it’s (been) enough to use a shark billy – a small metal rod between two and three feet long – and I’ve just given them a little nudge on their nose.”

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