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How to guard myself against a shark attack?

Many divers aspire to come across a shark underwater, as an experience which offers the joy of contemplating life in all its entireness. Beyond the incomparable emotion induced by such an encounter, certainly it is not to be forgotten that sharks must be treated as wild animals, great predators which can become a threat for those found in their environment.

The danger of actually being attacked is very low compared with other risk factors, and is even less in the case of scuba divers when compared to swimmers, surfers or snorkelers, which register the majority of attacks.

If you dive in shark infested waters, the first advice is to be aware of the surrounding environment and the marine animals around, which can signal the approach of such a predator.

No matter what type of shark you come upon, don’t touch it and don’t harass it because regardless how small it is, it can hurt you. Even the ones that feed on plankton, such as the whale shark or the basking shark, can apply dangerous blows with their bodies. Moreover, it is advisable not to race after schools of fish, because these deliver special kinds of sounds if frightened, sounds that attract sharks. If you do see a shark, don’t get agitated, stay calm and move as slowly as possible. Sharks are a curious, inquisitive creature, that’s why they move in circles around you. Stay within a group, as it is less probable to be attacked in a group than as an individual.  

Beware and don’t dive, surf or swim alone in waters in which sharks might be present – an attack is much more likely to occur in the case of a single individual than in a group. The same, it is prudent to avoid night swimming, this being the time span when sharks come close to the shore and are very active, as well as murky waters, in which it is possible to be mistaken for an easy prey (such as seals).  Avoid areas in which fishing is undertaken or where garbage containing remains of butchered animals is dumped in the water, as this can draw in sharks.

In general don’t move quickly and don’t splash around, to avoid being mistaken for an easy kill, a panicked or hurt animal. For the same reasons it is better to steer clear of swimming alongside a dog, which makes exactly such movements. Don’t swim with open wounds, the smallest amount of blood can be sensed by a shark miles away. Don’t wear swimming suits in contrasting colors or bright shiny jewelry, as these can attract the sharks’ attention. Don’t assume you are safe in shallow water – attacks can occur in one meter deep water.

Try not to behave as a seal around a shark: make an effort not to splatter, swim as smoothly as possible, without any jerky movements and keep a vertical position. If you are swimming or surfing and you need help, the appropriate signal is to raise your arm – don’t wave it, as to not be confused with a salute towards people on shore.

If you are spear fishing, never attach the caught fish or bait at your waist, this can easily transform you into the target of an attack. If you see a shark approaching it is recommended to let go of your prey and calmly withdraw. Likewise, it is sensible to often change the location for your fishing, considering the fact that the vibrations of the caught fish can attract sharks. 

Some recommend as protection the use of a wooden baton or shark billy with which you can lightly hit the shark in order to discourage it to come too close. This solution must be used with care – often enough the sharks are just curious, and a blow can provoke them and make them answer to aggression with aggression.

In the case in which a shark becomes aggressive, swimming fast in circles closer and closer or up and down, dashing towards you, lowering its pectoral fins, try to position yourself with the back towards a reef, a rock or even your diving buddy, in any arrangement which can reduce the angles at which you can be attacked. Use anything at hand to strike it – your camera, another piece of equipment, a stone or even your fist – preferably in the eyes or snout area, which are very sensitive. A well-applied blow will lead normally to a withdrawal of the shark, point in time which must be used for getting out of the water, continually watching the shark which can return. If you are bitten, defend yourself with all your might, kicking in the eyes and snout area – there are many cases in which the victims saved themselves in this way.

As a final note, a study of the Florida University concludes that shark attacks are more likely to happen on a Sunday, at a depth of less than two meters and involves surfers that wear black and white suits.


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