The National Geographic reckons that in 1996, 13 people were injured by sharks. In contrast, more than 40,000 Americans were injured by their toilet. Which is a funny statistic to bring out at a dinner party, but probably not the first thing that will flash through your mind if you ever happen to come face to face with a shark in the ocean.
Even though humans kill around two million sharks for every one of us eaten by a shark, very few animals have such an ability to give us nightmares. So if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of getting too close for comfort with one of these toothy tearaways, what’s the best way to make your escape?
1. Surf smart
Around half of all shark attacks are on surfers. Often hunting close to the coast, it’s thought they may mistake the shape of the board above for a seal. Even if you’re out in the water most days, you stand a miniscule chance of encountering a shark, but knowing the risks is a good idea. Try and avoid surfing alone – stay in a group; don’t wear shiny jewellery, as the sun reflecting off it can resemble the scales of fish; don’t surf at night or at dawn, when sharks tend to be feeding, and of course, if you see warning signs on the beach, be very wary. It boils down to common sense really – if you’re in the sea in a country where sharks are known to inhabit the waters, you need to exercise caution.
2. Keep your cool
If there is a shark near you, it’s important to stay calm. Don’t splash around or make a lot of noise because this is only going to increase the amount of attention it gives you. Although every instinct will be telling you to swim like hell for shore, the chances of you outrunning the shark are approximately zero, so you need to gather your wits and be ready to fight it off. It’s possible that the shark may not even be after you, so what you want to be doing is gently moving away, never taking your eyes off it, so that you’re ready for any sudden movements it makes…
3. Offence is the best defence
Some common advice to people who are attacked by lions or bears is to play dead. With a shark, there is little chance this will work. You need to go on the attack. It’s not exactly practical to carry a weapon with you when you go swimming though, so unless you have a surfboard, you’re going to need to use your own body. Water resistance will prevent many of your punches or kicks from having much impact, so use your fingers. Go for the shark’s most sensitive areas – its nose, its gills, and especially its eyes. Dig in and keep pressing until it lets you go. Remember that sharks will often thrash around once they have a bite, so if you can, give it a “hug”. That makes it less easy for it to control the struggle, and reduces your chance of getting several bites.
4. Make like a banana…
…and split. Sharks are not accustomed to their prey fighting back too vigorously. If you give your attacker a hard time, it may well leave and move on to an easier target. Now you need to get back to land, fast. Many shark attacks prove fatal because injuries aren’t dealt with quickly, so if you’re bleeding, try and get to shore as soon as you can. Hopefully there will be someone nearby who can help, but if not, scream and wave to get attention. If you’re swimming, you should take smooth strokes, because if you’re bleeding, you need to try and stop too much blood from escaping, as this may attract other sharks.