We’ve all seen Jaws. We’ve watched the Shark Week documentaries about shark attack survivors. In short, we know shark attacks do happen, but we’re lucky enough to live in a part of the world where that is rarely an up-close-and-personal part of reality.
The term shark “attacks” is a bit of a misnomer. It is a widely accepted theory that sharks often bite out of a case of mistaken identity.
Unfortunately, when a shark investigates a potential food source, it has no other means to do so than with its teeth. Since those teeth are extremely sharp and come in rows, bites to humans obviously do some damage.
Of course, staying out of the ocean entirely out of fear of running into a shark is illogical and, well, no fun either. Sharks live in the ocean; that’s a fact of life. Even when we can’t see them, the odds are good there is at least one of them nearby.
But since shark attacks result in only 10 human deaths per year, on average, statistically that puts you at a lower risk of being killed by a shark than dying from a fireworks accident, getting struck by lightning, or being in a car accident. The odds of being attacked and killed by a shark? Around 1 in 3,748,067.
On the flip side, experts estimate that over 100 million sharks die at the hands of humans every year – that’s approximately 11,000 sharks every hour.
So now that we’ve all agreed it would be silly to let fear of sharks keep you out of the water, you’re probably wondering if there’s any way to increase your chances of avoiding a run-in. Well, there are certainly some precautions you can take that might make a difference.
Shark safety researcher Christopher Neff recommends not going into the water during or after storms, because the inclement weather can stir up bait fish that cause feeding frenzies. Coupled with the cloudy water storms create, it could spell trouble.
Other times to avoid swimming include at dawn and dusk, when the water isn’t as clear and bait fish are out, as well as whenever any sort of guts, bait, or chum is nearby (for example, when someone is fishing in the near vicinity).
Some shark avoidance tips are cliché, like minimizing the amount of splashing and flailing you do when you are in the water – erratic movements signal distress to a shark and call attention to your presence. Or staying out of the water when you have a bleeding cut, because blood attracts sharks.
Other tips, though, are less familiar. For example, it is suggested that people with starkly uneven tans should be cautious swimming in open water. Why? Because skin color contrasts may draw in shark, who mistake those contrasts for color variations on fish.
The most important thing to remember when you go in the water is simply to be aware of your surroundings. Sharks don’t actively seek out humans as a food source, so don’t worry – you’re not as appetizing to these ocean dwellers as you may think.