Surviving a Shark Attack

January 8, 2013 by | Be the first to comment »

Few things are more terrifying than the thought of being devoured by an animal; especially a shark, and seeing their viciousness on the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week doesn’t help matters. But the extreme rarity of shark attacks should ease your mind. A bit. Maybe. But probably not.

There are an average of just about 65 shark attacks worldwide each year, and only a handful are fatal. You’re three times more likely to drown at the beach; hell, you’re 30 times more likely to be killed by lightning! Statistically speaking, you’ll probably never even get close enough to a shark to know they’re nearby.

But it does happen, in fact, as a teenager, I was once surrounded by sharks off the coast of Florida. Fortunately I wasn’t attacked, but it wouldn’t have been difficult for them since I had no idea they were even there.

I still remember it pretty clearly. My family had anchored our boat near a popular sandbar offshore. Being the typical 16-year-old, I just wanted to do my own thing; so I swam, and swam, and swam. Before long, I was far from the sandbar, boats, or people, which was exactly what I wanted. I figured it was a good opportunity for a long swim.

I don’t think I got more than 100 meters away before our boat came roaring up with everyone screaming to get in, which I reluctantly did. From the higher vantage point, I could see dozens of sharks, many over 5′ long, all around us. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but looking back, there were a variety of things that made this scenario a little more dangerous than your typical swim in the ocean.

  • There was a lot of activity and noise, which tends to draw sharks in out of curiosity.
  • The shallower area around sandbars is one of the places sharks prefer to hunt.
  • Sharks like to get close, but not too close to activity. I basically swam right out to them.

I probably wasn’t in any real danger; at least that’s what I tell myself. But what if you’re in a similar situation with no boat to come speeding to your rescue? Perhaps a rip current pulls you out to sea, your own boat has capsized, or your aircraft crashes, stranding you in the water. What then?

The best approach is to avoid an attack in the first place. Despite being in the middle of the ocean, this is easier than you may think.

  • First, stay calm. I know; that’s easy to say sitting in front of a computer, but consider how rare it is to actually encounter a shark. Fisherman pour blood and fish chunks into the water all day long in hopes of attracting them, often with no success. That fact should ease you mind a bit when you realize that a shark can smell blood in the water up to a quarter of a mile away.
  • Maintain a smooth swimming or treading rhythm, or better yet, float, because as well as blood, sharks are attracted to sound. Flailing around like an epileptic at a rave will sound like wounded prey—just the type of food a shark prefers. Remember, sound travels farther and faster in water, so this is especially important.
  • Minimize bodily fluids and waste released into the water. If you’re bleeding, find a way to wrap it tight enough to stop the bleeding. The last thing you need is a trail of blood leading right to you. If you must urinate, do so in short spurts. If you have to defecate (floating in the ocean thinking about sharks tends to cause that) throw it as far as you can in a direction that the current will carry it away from you.
  • Pay attention. You have a far better chance of survival if you realize there’s a shark nearby before he’s chomping your leg off at the knee. Keep a lookout in all directions, and if you’re in a group, form a circle with everyone facing outboard because a shark will usually try to attack from the rear. You need to look for the tell-tale fin, but don’t freak out the second you see one. A dolphin’s fin will look similar, but will break the surface in a crescent motion and return back underwater almost immediately, while a shark’s fin will generally break the surface and travel at a consistent height for some distance before returning underwater.
  • If there is something nearby, such as your capsized boat, partially submerged aircraft, or even a buoy, try to get on top. Getting out of the water will help protect you both from sharks and hypothermia. Just be careful not to cut yourself. The bottoms of boats and buoys are sometimes covered in razor-sharp barnacles, and a high-speed impact with the water tends to shred an aircraft’s fuselage, leaving sharp, jagged metal edges exposed.

Unfortunately, you can do everything right and still draw the short straw. You can’t change that, my friend, but you can fight back and survive a shark attack.

  • Try to avoid blocking a shark’s route back to deeper water. They may feel threatened and attack when they otherwise wouldn’t have.
  • Remember that circle I mentioned? Stay in it. If you see one shark, there are probably more nearby, and this formation gives you a better chance to fight back no matter what direction they attack from.
  • Don’t play dead; a shark will still eat you and then you’ll be dead for real. Remember, they’re looking for easy prey, so be anything but that.
  • When a shark gets close, shout as loud as you can underwater. Sometimes this will frighten them away. You could also use an air horn (which the Coast Guard requires on all boats) or slap an oar on the surface of the water.
  • If a shark gets close enough to reach, beat the hell out of them with whatever you have. That oar or any other any blunt object would come in handy at this point, including your fists. If possible, avoid using sharp objects like gaffs, spear guns, or knives, because they will draw blood and potentially bring more sharks to the area, but if that’s all you have, use it and deal with any consequences later if they arise.
  • When you strike, aim for the nose, the eyes, gills, or head.
  • If the shark does get a hold of you, latch on for dear life because they usually thrash around to tear off chunks of flesh. Don’t just sit there and cuddle though; poke, punch, and gouge the previously mentioned targets.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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