How to Survive a Shark Attack

The chances are slim that you’ll be attacked, but it’s best to be prepared

Sharks, the big bad bullies of the sea have an awful reputation that they can’t seem to shake. Headlines of shark attacks linger in the news, fictional movies like Jaws continue to scare beach-goers and more and more people tune into Shark Week, especially when the shows are about attacks.

People love a good predator and a grizzly story, but in reality the odds you’ll be attacked by a shark are astronomically slim. Last year there were 72 attacks around the world and three of those were deadly.

According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File the odds you will be attacked by a shark are one in 11.5 million. That means you are more likely to be killed by a bear, a dog, or a tornado than a shark. In fact, it’s more likely that a human would bite and kill you. Meanwhile, humans kill upwards of 100 million sharks each year.

On the off chance that you are the unlucky one out of 11.5 million people, though, here’s what you should do.

First, minimize your risk of being attacked. The International Shark Attack File gives the following advice:

  • Avoid being in the water from sunset to sunrise. This is when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.
  • Stay in a group, and do not wander too far from shore. Isolated individuals are more likely to be attacked than large groups; in addition, the farther you are from shore, the farther you are from help.
  • Consider your clothing: avoid wearing shiny jewelry, because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
  • Avoid brightly colored or patterned clothing, because sharks see contrast particularly well.
  • Do not enter waters being used by sport or commercial fisherman - sharks can sense the smells emitted from bait at incredible distances.
  • Avoid entering waters with sewage output and/or entering the water if you are bleeding. Such additions to the water can act as strong olfactory attractants to sharks.
  • Refrain from excess splashing while in the water, and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.
  • Exercise caution when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep drop-offs, as these are favorite hangouts for sharks.
  • Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present, and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one!
  • Stay calm if you do see a shark, and maintain your position in as quiet a manner as possible. Most sharks are merely curious and will leave on their own.

So you’re doing all the right things and somehow, out of nowhere you’re faced with a shark attack. The huge predator’s got his teeth on you and it’s time to react or be killed—what do you do?

Experts say that punching the shark in the nose is not the way to go. For one, it will be pretty tough to pull back and punch with the resistance of the water and two, your hand could easily miss its target and end up shredded by shark teeth. Instead you should claw or jab at the eyes or gills, both sensitive spots on the shark. Keep it up and the shark will soon decide you’re not worth the trouble.

After the attack get to shore quickly—not only will you need medical help, but the blood in the water could attract other sharks.

For more information on sharks and shark attacks, visit the Florida Museum of Natural History website.

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