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Responding To a Shark Attack: What To Do

January 16, 2014

Shark attack

Shark attacks are relatively rare, but they can be very serious when they do occur.  Certain areas have a higher risk of sharks attack humans, as do certain behaviours such as surfing, which can cause a shark to mistake a human for a seal.  When in the water, you can take a number of steps to reduce the likelihood of a shark attack, but if you do become the victim of such an attack, immediate and appropriate response can have a big effect on recovery.

Avoiding a Shark Attack

While not all shark attacks can be avoided, you can reduce your risks by avoiding a few common risk factors:

  • Stay away from areas where there are large numbers of dolphins and seabirds, as they eat the same food as sharks
  • Stay out of the water if you are bleeding, and if you cut yourself get out of the water immediately, as blood attracts sharks
  • Avoid areas with dead fish and other sea creatures, including fish bait and areas with a lot of fishing activity
  • Avoid splashing around a lot in the water, as this can appear to be an animal struggling to a shark
  • Use extra caution when surfing, and surf away from high-risk areas

Common Places for Shark Attacks

While shark attacks happen in coastal waters around the world, the shores of certain US states: California, Florida, Texas, and Hawaii, and Australia, especially Western Australia, have the highest number of reports.  Africa, Asia, and Pacific Islands also have higher rates of shark attacks than other waters.  When swimming or surfing in areas with shark attacks reported in recent years, use extra caution.  Although shark attacks remain uncommon, being aware of your risk level is wise.

When a Shark Attacks

Shark attacks are usually very sudden and come without warning.  If you do hear another swimmer warn of a shark in the area, get out of the water as quickly as you can.  If you find yourself the victim of a shark attack, however, swift response is the best way to escape with minimal injury.

Fight Back

If a shark bites you, do not play dead.  Instead fight back as ferociously as you are able.  Aim blows at the shark’s eyes and gills, which are the more sensitive areas of the shark’s head, and more likely to cause the shark to let go.  Strike as hard as you can and use anything available to you as a weapon.  Once successfully fought off, a shark will not likely try to bite again – however blood in the water at this point can attract more sharks or cause the shark to attempt a second attack in some cases.

Apply Pressure to Wounds

Immediately apply pressure to any wounds you have sustained in order to staunch bleeding.  Use your hands to do this even while still in the water if possible.  Yell for help.

Get Out of The Water

Get out of the water as quickly as you can after a shark attack.  Call for help, get the attention of anyone nearby, and ensure that medical attention is sent for right away.  Once clear of the water, rest in a safe place until help arrives.  Continue to apply pressure to wounds.

Helping a Shark Attack Victim

If you witness a shark attack, immediately call for emergency medical assistance.  Warn other swimmers to evacuate the water.  If lifeguards are on duty in the area, notify them of the attack right away.  Help the victim to get safely out of the water, but do not move them beyond that point.  Help to apply pressure to wounds and administer first aid if you are able and it is needed.  If you do not feel capable of administering first aid, call for assistance.  If the victim is a friend or family member, be sure to allow space for medical assistance, even though you may wish to remain in proximity.

After a Shark Attack

The majority of shark attacks are not fatal, but they can result in lasting injuries.  Quick reactions to an attack can help to reduce the level of the injury and the likelihood of a fatality.  After a shark attack, victims may have a long road to recovery depending on the type of injury.  The likelihood of recovery, however, is very high with immediate medical attention.  It’s important to remember that shark attacks, although highly publicized, are really quite unlikely, and a repeat attack is also unlikely.