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Shark fin above water
Sondem | Adobe Stock

Shark Safety Tips: Everything You Need to Know to Prevent or Survive a Shark Attack

Regional upticks in shark sightings and headline-grabbing incidents may have travelers wary of the water. If you’re planning on a beach vacation this summer, here’s what you need to know about shark safety before you get in the water.

Sharks circling in the water as seen from below
James Thew | Adobe Stock

Shark Attack Facts

Shark attacks last year were slightly above the five-year annual global average but still within a reasonable year-to-year variation, according to the International Shark Attack File. This database is maintained by scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida and measures shark attacks over the years, dividing them into unprovoked and provoked incidents, broken down by country and fatal vs. non-fatal. Keep in mind that your risk of being killed in a shark attack is miniscule—approximately 1 in 4,332,817.

Shark Safety Tips: How to Avoid Attacks

Sharks aren’t out to get you—in fact, they aren’t really interested in humans at all. Most attacks occur when a shark mistakes a human for a seal or other food source, so you want to avoid looking like a snack in the ocean. To avoid attacks, follow these shark safety tips:

  • Swim, surf, or paddle in groups, as most shark attacks target a solo person.
  • Stay close to shore in case you need help, but also know that sharks often hunt in shallow water.
  • Avoid being in the water at dusk or dawn, as these times are when sharks are more active and visibility is low.
  • Don’t make yourself ultra-visable: Sharks are attracted to contrasts. The International Shark Attack File scientists discourage wearing shiny jewelry (which can resemble fish scales), entering murky water, wearing bright-colored clothing, or showing off tan lines.
  • Do not enter the water near fishermen, as the sharks may be attracted to the bait.
  • Keep dogs out of the water.
  • Avoid areas near sandbars or steep drop-offs, which are where sharks tend to congregate.
  • Do not swim near seals or large schools of fish.
  • Try to avoid erratic movements, flailing, or splashing in the water.
  • Always listen to lifeguards and heed all signs and warning flags at a beach.
  • Check shark activity in your area before entering the water.

Do Shark Deterrents Work?

There’s no shortage of products out there that claim to be able to protect you from a shark attack. You can purchase bracelets or even electric devices if you want to feel safer in the water. But according to Tyler Bowling, Manager of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, these products are not effective 100 percent of the time: “Many of the shark deterrent devices on the market have been shown to have an effect on larger species such as white and tiger sharks. Additionally, these products are not tested on a large number of species. So what deters a tiger shark might not deter a cookiecutter shark and so on.”

How to Survive a Shark Attack

Most shark bites are accidental—the shark has mistaken a human for food and will let the victim go after the first bite. If the shark continues to attack, here’s what to do:

  • Fight back by hitting the shark in its most sensitive areas (the eyes, snout, or gills).
  • Get out of the water as soon as possible, as a shark may return for a second attack.
  • When swimming away, keep your movements as smooth and calm as possible to avoid attracting the shark’s attention again.

Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world.

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