How to Fight off a Shark

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One of the easiest days I ever had as a lifeguard was the day that a shark was spotted off Revere Beach. My partner and I took turns approaching all the bathers in the water telling them that we weren't requiring them to leave the ocean, but we thought they'd like to know that a shark had been spotted. It was the only time in my life that I saw people attempt to walk on water as they fled the sea.

  • Be realistic about your risk. Thanks to movies like "Jaws" and "Open Water" our fear of shark attack is far out of proportion to its likelihood. In thirty years of living at Venice Beach, I've seen only one, offshore more than a mile. Far more people die in the United States from lightning strikes than shark attacks. However if you do find yourself confronting a shark, remember that you can't reason with it. Of course you could be lucky, and it's simply swimming up to you because it's curious and will soon turn away.

  • Know the kinds of shark attacks. They basically break down into three categories. The classic circling attack is known as the bump and bite, where the shark nudges you first before returning to chomp. This is the one that gives you the best chance to defend yourself. Sneak attacks and hit and runs give no warning. If you are hit, don't assume that the shark will run off. If it likes how you taste, be prepared to defend yourself.

  • If a shark approaches closely, hit back, preferably with something other than a limb, like a surfboard, camera, swim fin, anything to hit the shark's eyes or gills which are the areas most sensitive to pain. A diving instructor once told me how he fought off a shark with a quick kick to its snout although today the nose is targeted only if you can't reach more vulnerable areas. Hit repeatedly. Sharks are predators, and like bullies prefer to pick on more defenseless prey. If you hurt a shark, it could back off for an easier victim.

  • Carry a shark stick. Unlike bear spray, which will not leave permanent damage, a shark stick is a firearm consisting of a tube with a chamber for a cartridge and firing pin. The chamber holds a single round, most commonly used by a .357 Magnum. The device will fire when you make contact with a shark's skin, essential because bullets do not travel far in water. The ammunition should be water proofed with varnish before using.

Tips & Warnings

  • The best way to survive a shark attack is avoid it ahead of time.
  • Sharks prefer solo swimmers to those in groups.
  • They are attracted by bright flashy objects, so leave the jewelry off when you swim, or go for a dull finished watch if you are timing your swims. Sharks see contrast well so avoid flashy bathing suits.
  • If you like long ocean swims, venture out past the surf line then swim parallel to shore rather than swim out a long way. Sharks prefer deeper water and a parallel path will make it easier to get back if you should tire or get attacked.
  • Don't swim in murky water where a shark's senses have the advantage.
  • Don't swim if you are bleeding or menstruating. Sharks can smell blood.
  • Don't swim at twilight or at night when sharks like to feed.
  • Avoid swimming in areas where sharks could find fish to eat. Sea birds or fisherman are a sign that bait fish are active.

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