Some shark researchers offer critiques about how outlets steer toward sensational coverage rather than factual information. David Shiffman, a shark expert, told WIRED, “Many Shark Week documentaries focus on so-called ‘shark attacks.’ The word ‘attacks’ makes people think these incidents occur much more than they actually do: The average American is about a million times more likely to die from a heart attack than a shark one.”
Popular Shark Week terms like “shark-infested” water or “man-eating” predators may make you hesitant to venture past the shoreline. Fortunately, ocean experts are providing some much-needed reassurance and safety tips that you can use year-round.
A Placid Shark May Be Close To You Without You Even Knowing It
Sharing water with a shark would be many beach-goers’ worst nightmare. But Chris Lowe, a marine biologist, explained how people often come very close to sharks without ever knowing. Lowe told Outsider, “We have a lot of footage and anecdotal evidence of sharks swimming around where humans play, and as long as people aren’t harassing them, the sharks just don’t care.”
Kelly Slater, a surfer, videoed his own peaceful close encounter with a shark that was swimming in the same wave that Slater was riding.
Sharks approach the shoreline for several reasons. First, fisherman may accidentally attract sharks. The sharks may sense the bait and think they’ve scored a free meal. Steer clear of entering the water near someone’s fishing spot. Second, sharks may prefer the warm water near the shore if the water is colder. Third, the Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach reports that some baby sharks and pregnant sharks tend to stick closer to the shore. These more vulnerable sharks may prefer shallow water, avoiding bigger or stronger competitors.
If you come into contact with a shark, do not yell or splash. These frenetic movements could make the shark become territorial. Injured fish often thrash in the water, so a shark may mistake you for an injured fish if you splash. Keep your eyes on the shark, and slowly move away.
Create Distance Between You And The Shark
In the very rare case that a shark approaches you, you can use your goggles, your fins, or a tripod to put distance between you and the shark. However, avoid touching or hitting the animal except as a last resort.
These ocean safety tips help us reclaim shark fact from the JAWS (wink) of television fiction. And when people are aware of basic shark behaviors, they can prepare for a safer beach trip.