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How to Prevent a Shark Accident

Juvenile Mako off Southern California; PC: Michael Dornellas

With the fear mongering media revolving around sharks as "mindless killing machines" and "vicious man eaters," it's no surprise that the majority of the public is terrified for sharks. However, if you know what we are about, then you know we try to dispel those rumors these movies create: sharks are not out to get people.

In fact, shark attacks used to be called shark accidents. The term changed when the movie, Jaws, came out. It is extremely unfortunate when a shark accident occurs; however, we must not forget that we are the guests in their ocean, and it is their home... not ours.

Shark accidents are usually caused for a couple of reasons: 1. prey confusion and 2. territorial reasons. Here are a few tips to protect yourself and highly reduce your chance of a shark accident:

1. Always, always, always be aware of your surroundings while swimming, surfing, or diving.

Look around yourself.

2. Never be in the ocean alone. Have a swim/dive/surf buddy with you. If anything were to happen, it's always nice to have someone you can trust to drag you to safety.

3. Don't go in the water at dusk/dawn/low light/poor visibility, as most sharks use the low light /poor visibility to their advantage when hunting for their prey.

4. Don't splash around when in the water. Take long, smooth strokes while swimming and surfing. And keep your heart rate low. Sharks can sense your heart rate and muscle movements in the water. If they sense lots of movement, like splashing, they might think you are an injured prey item for them.

5. Don't swim near river mouths or areas with heavy runoff, as certain scents that enter the ocean could attract sharks. In addition, sharks stay near river mouths, for easy access to prey as heavy rainfall makes it difficult for smaller fish to swim against the current and get pushed out to sea.

6. Always trust your instincts. If you feel like you need to get out of the water, do so calmly and still looking around.

7. Don't wear bright white or yellow colors, as these create high contrast points for sharks to think of as prey.

8. If diving, put white circular stickers near the end of your fins to seem like eyeballs. Sharks rarely attack if seen. Those "eyeballs" on your fins could make it seem like something is aware and looking at the shark, thus making the shark unable to attack as it has lost the element of surprise.

9. Steer clear of fishermen/spearfishermen... sharks are attracted to fish blood!

10. If swimming near prey items, i.e. sea lions/seals, pay attention to their behavior. They may suddenly dart away to get away from something that's coming. Stay calm and look around attentively and calmly swim back to shore while remembering to keep looking around.

Photo of founder of Saving Wildlife Project, Cassie Paumard, swimming with galapagos sharks in Hawaii; PC: Ocean Ramsey

If you are in the middle of a shark encounter, the best thing you can do is stay calm and keep eye contact with the shark. This makes you seem like another apex predator to the shark. If the shark is coming in too close, put your fins out (no sudden movements/jerks) or extend a GoPro pole or camera (if one on hand (like the picture above)) to give yourself some space between you and the shark. Look around to see if you can find someone near by or a group of people and swim towards them while facing the shark and keeping eye contact. Get the group to calmly swim back to shore with you. Sharks get intimidated when there's more people in a group, together. If you do not have a pole or fins and the shark is coming towards you, hold your ground, and firmly place a hand on its nose, lock your arm and push yourself up and away or to one side from the shark. My dear friend, Ocean Ramsey, does this a lot to redirect tiger sharks. Check out her Instagram for more information on sharks.

Here is a great example of safety diver of One Ocean Diving in Hawaii, GE Keoni, showing how to redirect a beautiful tiger shark. Notice how he keeps his arm stiff and keeps eye contact.

Safety Diver GE Keoni with a beautiful tiger shark in Oahu; PC: Juan Oliphant

Clearly, these are not mindless killing machines that are out for human flesh. There's a lot that goes on in a sharks mind before they even go and take an investigative bite. Remember never to blame the shark. We are in their home, so it is our responsibility to take it upon ourselves to be safe in the water and understand there is always a risk. However, remember you're more likely to die by a falling vending machine than by shark ;) share this post with your friends and family that are ocean oriented!

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