How to Avoid and Survive a Shark Attack

Shark Smart Safety Guide

At Sharkbanz, our mission is to provide solutions to reduce conflict between humans and sharks. Technology together with education are critical in order to reduce the risk and to maximize your ocean experiences. Use our infographic, articles, and checklists to learn practical safety strategies and important background information on shark behavior.

By understanding shark behavior and why sharks attack (bite), people can modify their behavior in the water to minimize the chances of a shark bite. Explore each section for crucial tips and insights to help keep you safe.

Understanding Shark Behavior:

  1. Are some sharks friendly?
  2. When do sharks feed?
  3. What do sharks eat?
  4. Why do sharks attack humans?

How To Avoid Shark Attacks (and How to Survive a Shark Attack, Too):

  1. What to do before you get in the water
  2. What to do if you see a shark or a shark is circling you
  3. What to do if you are attacked by a shark

Shark Safety Checklist:

  1. Safety Checklist for Swimming and Surfing in shark populated areas
  2. Safety Checklist for Spearfishers, Divers, and Snorkelers


How to Avoid A Shark Attack

Understanding Shark Behavior

Are Some Sharks Friendly? | When Do Sharks Feed? | What Do Sharks Eat? | Why Do Sharks Attack Humans?

Sharks can be large and ferocious apex predators or filter-feeding plankton-eaters, and the majority of shark species are harmless to humans. Of the approximately 520 identified shark species, only 13 types of sharks have bitten humans more than 10 confirmed times. Even the few species of sharks capable of attacking humans rarely do so. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File, there were 57 unprovoked shark attacks on humans worldwide in 2022.

Great White sharks, Tiger sharks, and Bull sharks account for the majority of fatal shark attacks on humans. Referred to as the “Big Three,” these shark species are often six feet (about 1.8 meters) or greater, they have sharp teeth evolved to slice through prey, and people commonly enter areas where they are present. 

While the “Big Three” often steal headlines, a number of other shark species are involved in attacks on humans, so it is important to research and understand the specific dangers you will be facing before getting in the water at a particular location. For example, in Florida, where most of the shark attacks in the United States take place, Blacktip sharks are responsible for the majority of incidents. Though these incidents are rarely fatal due to their relatively small size, blacktip sharks can still cause significant injury. 

Awareness of the types of sharks in the water, their habits, and ways to avoid attacks are crucial components of a sound safety plan. Surfers, swimmers, divers, and other ocean goers commonly see and interact with a wide range of shark species, and the majority of these interactions are peaceful and awe-inspiring. 

Ignorance, lack of caution, and even sheer bad timing could result in these situations turning violent. On the one hand, someone in the water could invite a shark attack by swimming with fishing bait and splashing around, but it is also possible that one could exercise responsible shark safety procedures and still be attacked by a shark by jumping in the water just as a shark swims underneath them. Thus, knowing what to do if attacked by a shark, which will be discussed in Part II, is imperative.

Dangerous as they are, people trained in shark safety frequently dive with all types of shark species without harm. By understanding shark behavior and implementing sound safety plans, people can minimize the risk of a shark attack.

When do sharks feed?” and “What time of day are sharks most likely to attack?” are two excellent questions to ask before you enter the water. The truth is, different species of sharks have different feeding times, which are often determined by their habitat, behavior, and the availability of prey.

Tiger sharks, for example, will eat a wide variety of prey, and they are most active at night. These nocturnal feeders tend to hunt alone near the shoreline or in shallow waters where they can easily find their prey. During the day, Tiger sharks are known to rest in deeper waters to conserve energy.

Great White sharks are diurnal feeders, which means they are most active and feed during the day. They hunt both in deep waters and near the surface, using their keen sense of smell to detect their prey from a distance. Great White sharks then rely on their eyesight, electrical sense, sheared teeth, and powerful jaws to attack and kill their prey. 

Bull sharks are opportunistic feeders active both day and night. They often hunt for prey in shallow waters and estuaries, and they have even been known to swim up rivers to find food, making them one of the few species of sharks that can survive in freshwater environments. Ask the Aussies in Brisbane, who can attest to the fact that bull sharks have traversed inland from the oceans and now roam the rivers that snake through the city. 

By understanding the types of sharks present in your geographical location, you can predict when they are most likely to feed and plan your trips into the water accordingly.

Sharks eat a range of food types, including plankton, birds, and even man-made objects, but the majority of sharks are carnivores. Though the “Big Three” are apex predators that all pose a risk to humans, Tiger sharks, Great White sharks, and Bull sharks each have distinct eating patterns, which are essential to how they survive in their respective habitats.

Tiger sharks, which are named for the gray stripes and spots that run along their sides, are most commonly found in tropical and subtropical waters. As opportunistic feeders, they will eat a wide variety of smaller (or bigger) animals in the food chain. According to the conservation organization, Oceana, their diet ranges from fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and other sharks, to seabirds, squid, and crustaceans. Tiger sharks have also been documented eating man-made items, such as tires, metal, and other debris. 

In contrast, Great White sharks have more specialized diets. They primarily feed on marine mammals, such as seals, sea lions, and whales, as well as fish such as tuna and salmon. Great White sharks have a high tolerance for a wide variety of water temperatures, migrate long distances, and are thus found in oceans around the globe. 

Bull sharks have a varied diet that includes fish, squid, turtles, and seabirds. They have a unique ability to regulate their saltwater intake, an adaptation that allows them to survive in freshwater environments. They will even swim up rivers to pursue their prey.

Ocean goers should be wary when they observe schools of bait fish. In Florida, for example, Spinner sharks, Blacktip sharks, and other shark species pursue small bait fish into shallow water, so activities in these areas should be performed with extreme caution or avoided altogether. In other locations, such as portions of California and Mexico, the presence of bait fish close to the shore does not necessarily signal the presence of sharks, so it is important to be aware of the types of sharks in the area and where they can be found. Local knowledge is key. When in doubt, take a break and wait for the bait fish to pass—the schools move quickly, especially when chased.

What do sharks eat, then? All kinds of things! By educating yourself on the sharks you may encounter in your local waters, you can help ensure you do not come between a shark and its source of food.

As noted, the majority of serious and fatal shark bites and attacks on humans come from predatory (and apex) shark species like Tiger sharks, Great White sharks, and Bull sharks. Other, more common shark bite incidents are from species including Blacktip, Reef, Whitetip, Bronze Whaler, and Spinner sharks. Scientists offer a few explanations for why sharks attack humans, including the following:

  1. MISTAKEN IDENTITY: Sharks have excellent eyesight and a keen sense of smell. Sometimes sharks may mistake a human for a seal, fish, or other prey, especially if the person is swimming in murky water. 
  2. ASSOCIATION OF HUMANS WITH FOOD: Sharks are highly intelligent, and when humans feed sharks over time, they may come to associate boats and/or humans in a certain area with food, which increases the likelihood of a shark attack. For this reason, you should not feed sharks or seek to lure them toward you or your vessel; for your safety, and everyone else’s too. 
  3. DEFENSE: Sharks may attack humans if they feel threatened or cornered. This can occur when a human accidentally comes between a shark and its prey, or if a shark is protecting its space. There is debate about whether sharks are territorial, and if so, which species and to what extent, but as a matter of common sense, areas where there are multiple shark sightings should be entered with caution. Wise safeguards include looking for caution flags posted by local authorities, speaking with lifeguards and beach patrol, and researching shark sightings in the area. 
  4. HUNGER: Sharks can be opportunistic feeders and may attack humans if they are hungry and cannot find their usual prey. This can happen in areas where sharks' natural prey is scarce, or when fishing or boating activity in the area has disrupted the food chain. This can also happen due to natural migration patterns. During late summer and fall, an estimated 25% of adult female Tiger sharks migrate to Hawaii, ioften causing a spike in shark attacks. Again, local knowledge is a key component to shark safety.   
  5. CURIOSITY: Sharks are naturally curious creatures and may investigate humans in their environment. Sometimes, this curiosity can escalate into a shark bite. 

There are several reasons why sharks attack humans, and by understanding the shark’s motivation for approaching you, you can take measures to dissuade a shark from pursuing you as prey, mistaking you for food, and/or reducing elements of interest a curious shark may wish to investigate. Remember, an investigative shark bite is the most common type of shark “attack”. Sharks don’t have hands, so they use their mouth and teeth to probe.

Sharing the Same Space

Sharks naturally hunt and travel in nearshore habitats

Watch examples of how predatory shark species share our most common ocean setting.

Shark Safety Guide

How to Avoid and Survive A Shark Attack

What To Do Before You Get In The Water | What To Do If You See a Shark | What To Do If a Shark Attacks You

If you plan to enter the water in an area where dangerous sharks are known to be present, there are several things you can do to minimize the risk of an attack:

  1. Research: One of the best ways to avoid a shark attack is by understanding the geographic location where you will be swimming. Before entering the water, research the area and find out if there have been any recent shark sightings or attacks. Local and regional governments will often provide information on their websites explaining warning signs and flags posted on the beach, as well as the dangers of sharks in the area. In Western Australia, for example, the government launched an app specifically designed to keep beachgoers informed about recent shark sightings.
  2. Avoid wearing shiny jewelry or bright clothing: Sharks are attracted to shiny objects, so avoid wearing jewelry or clothing that reflects light. Particularly in murky water, a shark may confuse shiny jewelry or high-contrast clothing with the reflection of fish scales and mistake it for prey.
  3. Swim / Surf / Play in Groups: You are more likely to be attacked by a shark if you are alone than when you are with a group of people, so bring a friend if you can or swim close to other groups of people. 
  4. Avoid ocean activities at dawn, dusk, or night: Depending on the species, sharks can be more active during these times. In addition, the lack of visibility diminishes your ability to detect the presence of sharks and the ability of sharks to properly identify their prey. As a result, sharks may mistakenly target you as prey and be able to approach you undetected.
  5. Do not swim near schools of fish, fishing boats, or piers: If you see schools of fish jumping out of the water or birds diving into the sea in certain areas, you should consider exiting the water, as large groups of fish can draw sharks. Both recreational and commercial fishermen often discard unwanted fish and fish parts, which can also attract sharks. Avoid these areas and rely on your research to find beaches monitored by a lifeguard and/or beach patrol. Lifeguards and beach patrol are excellent resources, so if you have any questions, you should feel free to approach them and always heed their advice. 
  6. Plan for what to do if you see a shark and how to survive a shark attack: In the rare event that you do encounter a shark, there are some key behaviors that you can exhibit to communicate to the shark or sharks that you are a predator like them, and not preay, while calmly and vigilantly distancing yourself from the threat. We cover these tips in more detail below. 
  7. Wear Sharkbanz shark seterrents: Sharkbanz shark deterrent devices use patented magnetic technology to deter sharks from approaching. The devices, which can be purchased as sleek and non-intrusive wearables, use powerful permanent magnets to generate an electromagnetic field that overwhelms a shark’s electrical sensory organ, which can create avoidance behavior from the animals. Marine biologists and shark experts endorse Sharkbanz as an effective device for reducing the risk of shark attacks. 

Encountering a shark can be a terrifying experience, but how you react can spell the difference between a shark sighting and a shark attack. Most importantly, you want to communicate to the shark that you are aware of its presence and that you are a predator, but you are not a threat to it unless it attacks you. Here are some guidelines to follow if you see a shark or think a shark is circling you:

  1. Do Not Splash and Remain Calm: Sharks are typically not interested in humans as a food source, and attacks are usually a result of mistaken identity or defensive behavior. Staying calm can help you think clearly and make rational decisions. A calm demeanor can also communicate to the shark that you are not prey. There are several breathing techniques that can aid in keeping calm. One effective technique is to focus on taking a deep inhale through the nose while counting “one,” exhaling slowly through the mouth while counting “two,” and then repeating the exercise. Deep breaths should help slow your heart rate and provide you with sufficient oxygen to make intelligent decisions, like wading gently away from the shark rather than thrashing around or otherwise attracting a shark’s attention.  
  2. Make Eye Contact: If you can, maintain eye contact with the shark as it approaches to help signal strength. Sharks often attack from behind, so keeping the shark in your line of sight can help deter it from attacking. Remember that several sharks may be present, so once you make firm eye contact with the shark, be sure to check your surroundings for other threats. 
  3. Slowly Distance Yourself: If the shark is swimming towards you, slowly and calmly move away from it without turning your back. Try to keep a distance of at least 6 feet (about 1.8 meters) between you and the shark. If you have fins, face the shark and put your fins between you and the shark as protection as you calmly swim away. Do not flail your arms and legs, and do not create surface splashes. 
  4. Get Out of the Water: If possible, leave the water as soon as you see a shark. Remember that some sharks can attack in surprisingly shallow waters, so as soon as you are alerted to the threat of a shark, seek dry land immediately. Be purposeful and act with intent. 
  5. Alert Others: Alert others about the presence of the shark and call for help. Remember that sharks are less likely to attack you if you are in a group than if you are alone. 

If you are attacked by a shark, it is important to know that by defending yourself and quickly getting to safety, you have a high likelihood of surviving. Of the 57 unprovoked shark attacks in 2022, only five of them were fatal. Here are some guidelines to follow if you are attacked by a shark:

  1. Defend Yourself: You remained calm when you initially spotted the shark, but now that the shark has made a move to bite, take action. Sharks can often be deterred before biting by firmly pushing the snout of the animal up and away. This is much easier when diving, and may not be possible when surfing or swimming. If you do not have the proper angle to push the snout, use your fists and any available objects to defend yourself. Aim for the shark's eyes, nose, or gills, as these are their most sensitive areas. When striking the nose, be wary of missing too low and exposing your hand to the mouth of the shark. 
  2. Get Help: If possible, signal for help or call for assistance as soon as you can. Try to stay afloat and keep your head above water. Remember to keep an eye on the shark to defend against repeated aggression.
  3. Apply Pressure to Wounds: If you are bleeding, apply pressure to the wound as soon as possible. This can help slow down the bleeding and reduce the risk of shock. If blood continues to pulsate from the wound, be prepared to use items at your disposal, such as a surfboard leash or the contents of a first aid kit, to apply a tourniquet
  4. Seek Medical Attention: Once you are safely out of the water, seek medical attention immediately. Shark bites can cause serious injuries, including deep wounds, broken bones, infection, and internal injuries.
  5. Cooperate with Rescuers: When rescue personnel arrives, you should fully cooperate with them and follow their instructions. They will have the training and equipment necessary to best care for the injured person.

Sharkbanz co-founder Nathan Garrison recalls an encounter while surfing in South Africa a couple of years ago.

As an experienced surfer with knowledge of shark safety, Nathan took the necessary precautions before paddling out. He knew Great White sharks frequented the spot where he would be surfing and therefore equipped himself with a Sharkbanz x Modom shark deterrent leash and wrist wearable. 

Not long into his session, he was in between waves when two fins emerged from the water about 70 meters away. With a clear mind, he noticed both a dorsal fin and caudal (tail) fin when the figure re-emerged, a tell-tale sign that he was dealing with a shark and not a dolphin or whale. Sharks have vertical caudal fins, whereas the tail fins of dolphins and whales are horizontal. The fact that he could see the shark’s tail fin also indicated that it was large, as smaller species’ tail fins are less prominent.

His training immediately kicked in — he remained calm and paddled efficiently toward shore, catching a small wave to the beach.

How to Avoid a Shark Attack

Shark Safety Checklists

Safety Checklist for Swimming and Surfing | Safety Checklist for Spearfishers, Divers, and Snorkelers

Depending on what you will be doing in the water, there are different methods to avoid shark attacks. That is why we tailored a shark safety checklist for surfers and swimmers, and another shark safety checklist for spearfishers, divers, and snorkelers.

Safety Checklist for Swimming and Surfing:

  • Research shark sightings in the area and gain a deeper understanding of the types of sharks you may encounter in the water, their feeding habits, and their motivations for attacking you. ☐
  • Research local government websites where you will be swimming and find out if there have been any recent shark sightings or attacks. ☐
  • Avoid wearing shiny jewelry or brightly colored clothing. ☐
  • Stay with a buddy or group of people. ☐
  • Do not venture too far from the shoreline. ☐
  • Although studies have shown that sharks are not particularly drawn to human blood, they can sense it, so just to be safe, stay out of the water with bleeding cuts or wounds. ☐
  • Avoid swimming and surfing at dawn, dusk, and night, which are times when visibility is low, increasing the chances of a shark mistaking you for their prey. ☐
  • Keep away from murky, dirty water and water near sewage drains. ☐
  • Do not swim near fishing boats, piers, or other areas used by recreational or commercial fishermen. ☐
  • Avoid areas with signs of bait fish or fish-feeding activity; jumping fish and diving seabirds are good indicators of schools of fish. ☐
  • If you see dolphins, keep in mind that sharks may still be present, as they often feed on the same food. Some species of sharks, such as Great White sharks, have even been known to feed on dolphins. ☐
  • Be aware that sharks may be present between sandbars or near steep drop-offs in water depth. ☐
  • Avoid swimming and surfing in canals, river mouths, and estuaries. ☐
  • Do not take your pets in sharky water with you, as their splashing could attract sharks. ☐
  • If there are shark nets or other shark mitigation measures, stay far away from them. ☐
  • If you see a shark, remain calm and do not splash around. Slowly retreat from the shark and get out of the water, then alert other people in the water and inform lifeguards (if present). ☐
  • Use Sharkbanz shark deterrent wearables to reduce the risk and provide extra peace of mind. ☐
  • If a shark attacks you, defend yourself by targeting the gills, eyes, and nose; get help immediately; apply pressure to the wounds; and cooperate with the rescuers while seeking medical attention. ☐

Safety Checklist for Spearfishers, Divers, and Snorkelers:

  • Research shark sightings in the area and gain a deeper understanding of the types of sharks you may encounter in the water, their feeding habits, and their motivations for attacking you. ☐
  • Research local government websites where you will be swimming and find out if there have been any recent shark sightings or attacks. ☐
  • Plan for how to respond to a shark encounter. ☐
  • Avoid wearing shiny jewelry or brightly colored clothing. ☐
  • Remember that the less visibility you have, the more vulnerable you are, so pay attention to factors that affect the clarity of the water and your ability to see. ☐
  • Always work with a buddy or team and discuss a plan ahead of time that includes dive logistics and contingency plans. The team should also be clear about hand signals, entry and exit strategies, and what to do if someone gets separated. ☐
  • Be aware that using bait to lure fish may attract sharks. ☐
  • If you see a shark, do not provoke it in any way. Try to make eye contact with the shark, while remaining aware of your surroundings for other sharks that may be in the area. ☐
  • Use your speargun to push away aggressive sharks. Avoid shooting the shark, as this can create an even more dangerous situation by provoking it. Plus, you may lose the gun. Shooting a shark should be the last resort. ☐
  • Slowly and calmly distance yourself from the shark. If you have fins, stay facing the shark and put your fins between you and the shark as you swim away. ☐
  • Do not attempt to feed a shark while underwater. ☐
  • Pay close attention to the shark’s behavior. If you see any signs of aggression or agitation, then exit the water immediately without drawing attention to yourself. ☐
  • Pay attention to the behavior of other fish. If they suddenly jump out of the water and/or flee the area, it could be an indication that a shark is nearby. ☐
  • If you catch or otherwise have fish, do not attach the fish to your body or keep them close to you; instead, use a float and line to keep a safe distance between you and the fish. ☐
  • Use Sharkbanz wearable deterrent and fishing tackle to reduce the risk and provide extra peace of mind. ☐
  • If a shark attacks you, defend yourself by targeting the gills, eyes, and nose; get help immediately; apply pressure to the wounds; and cooperate with the rescuers while seeking medical attention. ☐

While the risk of a shark attack is low, it is important to take precautions when entering waters where particular sharks have been known to roam. By understanding shark behavior and why sharks attack humans, and applying some simple safety tips, you can reduce the risk of a shark attack. For extra peace of mind, we highly recommend Sharkbanz patented shark repellent wearable and fishing products as reliable and effective tools for deterring sharks. 

Sharks are wild, but with preparation and the help of shark repellent technology, people can enter the water with the confidence that they can reduce the risk of shark attacks.