Shark Attacks Can Happen Anywhere — Here’s How to Save Your Own Life if One Approaches You

There are about 19 shark attacks each year in the United States, with a fatality just once every two years. And while it’s rare to be attacked by a shark and even rarer to be killed, it’s still something that may briefly cross your mind before you step into the ocean. But what if it ever actually happened? As terrifying as it sounds, there are ways you can attack the shark, too — and possibly save your own life.


Take steps to prevent an attack before it can happen. | IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock/Getty Images

Prevent the attack before it can even happen

The first and most important way to defend yourself against a shark is to take steps to prevent an attack to begin with: Know where you’re swimming. National Geographic recommends avoiding areas where animal, human, or fish waste may enter the water. When sharks smell food, they come running, and you don’t want to get caught in the crossfire. Also, sharks tend to feed at dawn and dusk, so avoid swimming during those hours; that’s when sharks come closer to shore to find fish.

Your clothing can also be a risk. Shark shave a sharp ability to notice color contrasts, so wearing a brightly colored bathing suit or fishing gear may make you more attractive to the shark. Plus, never wear shiny jewelry while you swim. The reflection of light that creates the shine may look like fish scales, and since sharks feed on fish, they could mistake you for their dinner. Also, never swim alone. Sharks typically attack individuals; plus, swimming alone also means you may not get the help you need if you’re attacked.

Here’s how to save your own life if you’re attacked

Being approached by a shark can be a scary experience, but if you think tactfully and try to put your fear aside, you may prevent serious injuries — or worse.

If you’re in the water and notice a shark far away, remove yourself from the water as swiftly and quietly as possible. National Geographic recommends this because sharks are attracted to splashing — to them, it means there are fish nearby. If you’re in the water and cannot leave the water quietly, stay as still as possible. Again, any sign of splashing may attract the shark to you.

If you don’t notice the shark until it is right upon you, and an attack is imminent, try to use anything except your hands and feet to defend yourself (such as a fishing pole), and aim for the shark’s eyes or gills. Use your hands and feet if you have no other potential weapon. The shark’s eyes and gills are its most delicate features, so punching them, hitting them with a fishing pole, etc. should immediately deter the shark from attacking you.

If the shark does attack you, defend yourself in any way possible. Remaining quiet may prevent the attack, but if the attack happens, National Geographic recommends that you do not play dead. Attack the shark back with all the strength you have — claw its gills or its eyes and punch its snout to make it uncomfortable. The shark will likely swim away once it realizes you are not an enjoyable meal.

If you’re bitten, immediately try to stop the bleeding

Once the attack is over, leave the water immediately, even if you think the bite was small and you’ll be fine. But leave the water swiftly, calmly, and quietly. It’s unlikely the shark would attack you again, but you need to be aware that you are bleeding and the shark is still in the area. You can’t rule out the possibility of a second attack.

Seek medical attention right away, and notify lifeguards or passersby in the area of the shark to make sure everyone stays out of the water.

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