Avoiding Sharks, Protection from Them and Anti-Shark Technology

Home | Category: Humans, Sharks and Shark Attacks


Sharks can often be found near beaches and it is not uncommon for a fishermen to catch large sharks within sight of swimmers. Peter Benchley, the author "Jaws" told Newsday, ““If you see a shark, stay still, pull in your arms and make look yourself bigger. If you can get the courage — and I don’t know that I’d have the courage — to swim at it and show that you’re a large, capable, healthy critter and that you’re aggressive, nine time out of 10, it will go away. But the 10th time is the one you don’t want.”

If you are about to get attacked by a shark you can try a couple of things. First hit in the nose. Most of its sensitive sensory organs are located there, or rip at the gills or try to flip it over. Sharks go limp if you turn them upside down. Swimming in choppy water is another strategy; sharks, and crocodiles too, are supposed to shy away from white caps. ┡

Professional diver Captain Jonathan Smith told National Geographic it is best that people who spot a shark while out swimming should not try to run or swim away frantically.“Sharks can come up to water at waist height so the only advice I can give is that you should not have any kind of food that will attract sharks, but when they come for you, you can actually fend them off,” Captain Smith said. “So, the trick is to not splash on the surface. “There is no use swimming away from them when you see them because you will not be able to get away from them. When you splash the surface, it will make them get more excited and it will attack.” [Source: Wati Talebula, Fiji Times, December 2, 2020]

Larry Cahoon, professor of biology and marine biology at the University of North Carolina, told People magazine: “"People say to swim slowly back to shore, but what is that going to do? Swim to shore as fast as you can. A shark that means to eat you will keep coming.You need to call for help. People who survive all but the least damaging shark attacks got immediate help from others." Cahoon also advises against any attempts to punch the shark in the nose. "A 10-foot bull shark will weigh close to 500 pounds and is essentially all muscle. What chance would anyone have?" he said. "You won't be thinking rationally even if you have the opportunity to punch it," Cahoon added, "so just focus on getting back to land."

See Great White Sharks, Bull Sharks, Tiger Sharks and Grey Reef Sharks.

Websites and Resources: Shark Foundation shark.swiss ; International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks ; Tracking Sharks trackingsharks.com, which records all global shark attacks; Animal Diversity Web (ADW) animaldiversity.org; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noaa.gov; Fishbase fishbase.se ; Encyclopedia of Life eol.org ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal ocean.si.edu/ocean-life-ecosystems

Tips and Advice to Avoid Encounters with Shark

Surviving a shark encounter From Fix.com fix.com

To avoid a confrontation with sharks:
1) Swimmers should stay out of the water around dawn and dusk as these are the times when sharks are most active and most likely to approach without you noticing. Dusk is particularly is when visibility is down and shark numbers might be up.
2) Do not swim alone especially in deep water. Experts recommend swimming in groups, as sharks usually attack lone individuals but this isn’t always the case. Having a buddy on hand to get help is not a bad idea should something bad happen.
3) Swimmers should avoid murky water. In water with poor visibility sharks have a harder time distinguishing people from tasty prey.

4) Swimmers should avoid steep drop offs and places where schools of fish have gathered. Sometimes big sharks are encountered at such places.
5) Swimmers should take off all jewelry and don't wear yellow (yellow is believed to attract sharks). Shiny jewelry is sometimes mistaken by sharks for silvery baitfish or shiny scales on larger fish.
6) You should never swim with your dog, a favorite target of sharks. <br/> 7) Do not enter the water near fishermen.
8) Avoid areas such as sandbars (where sharks like to congregate).
Avoid erratic movements while in the water. Avoid splashing around in the water unnecessarily, as sharks may be attracted the movements mistake it for struggling prey.

If you see a seal in the water, you should not be in the water.
9) Don’t ever grab sharks by their tail, fins or body — even normally gentle nurse sharks don’t like this and may turn around and bite you.
10 ) If you are swimming and see small, silvery bait fish, move away or get out of the water. Sharks of different sizes often follow such schools of fish towards the beach, and could mistakenly bite you instead of a fish.
11) Do not enter the water if you bleeding or have a cut. If you cut or scrap yourself while in the water get out. Sharks have an acute sense of smell and are often attracted by blood.
12) Don’t engage in spearfishing as the blood and thrashing movements of the fish can attract sharks.

West Australia has been the site of several fatal shark attacks, notably by great whites. The government there advises:
Stay out of the water if sharks have been sighted in the area.
Stay close to shore (within 30 meters of the water’s edge).
Avoid water temperatures lower than 22 degrees C (72 degrees F).
Avoid water depths of greater than five meters when swimming or surfing.
Avoid swimming after heavy storms, or in low light conditions (dusk and dawn).
Avoid swimming if there are seals, dolphins, whales or baitfish nearby. [Source: Ryan Kempster, Shark biologist, The University of Western Australia; Shaun CollinWinthrop Professor School of Animal Biology and the Oceans Institute, The University of Western Australia, The Conversation, November 28, 2013] .

Expert Diver Shows How to Avoid an Attack from a Massive Tiger Shark

Art of Manliness artofmanliness.com

In the Know reported: 34-year-old Kayleigh Nicole Grant is a marine biologist and professional shark diver. Based in Hawaii, she the co-founder, captain and lead safety diver of Kaimana Ocean Safari. In August 2022, the expert went viral on Reddit with 57,000 upvotes with footage of her colleague Andriana swimming with a huge tiger shark. [Source: Emerald Pellot, In The Know by Yahoo, August 25, 2022]

In the footage posted by @SamMee514, Grant explained that pro diver Andriana was demonstrating why you shouldn’t splash and swim away from sharks. “Splashing and swimming away imitates what prey does,” Grant said. “When we’re dealing with top predators like sharks, we want to also act like a predator.”

When Andriana encountered the tiger shark she faced it rather than fleeing. “What you actually want to do is not splash,” Grant said. “Turn around, face the animal and maintain eye contact. With tiger sharks, you can place your hand on the top of their head, push down gently and that will redirect them away from you.” Adriana did just that. She patted the tiger shark, maneuvered it in a new direction and watched it swim away. Both of them were unscathed.

Avoid Places Where Sharks Might Be

According to the Huffington Post: "People need to use common sense in deciding where and when to be in the water and doing what. For example, areas where pinnipeds [seals and sea lions] have pupping grounds, and often costal points outside of kelp beds, are "hot spots" off California, says Professor Gregor Cailliet of California State University. Fatal attacks often occur in places where white sharks would have been expected to be feeding. Burgess says. [Source: Huffington Post October 31, 2011]

Sometimes attacks occur on migration route for whales. "Whales move through certain areas at predictable times of year, every year, and where there are migratory whales there are white sharks following. We see this right along our coast — the East Coast — in the winter as the Right Whales head south off of Georgia and Florida, white sharks follow them as well. The only time we see white sharks in Florida is in the winter time when they follow the whales down."

John McCosker, an expert on white sharks at the California Academy of Sciences in California, advises people to avoid areas where there is a history of attacks, and that the new thrill-seeking "shark dives" being offered adventurous divers runs counter to common sense. "I suspect that this is contributing to an unrealistic perception of the risks associated with such stupidity; however, surprising, I'm not aware of a significant increase in attacks [in such dives]. The risk of diving with white sharks in the Northeast Pacific, as is done in California and Guadalupe Island, Mexico, will increase if people think that it is safe to leave the protection of a cage."

Shark researcher George Burgess said. It is considered very dangerous to go in the water when a lot of bait fish are near the shore as happens around Daytona Beach Florida and Brisbane, Australia. The sharks are often swimming around and biting anything that moves. If humans enter the mix they may get bitten.

Tips for Surfers to Avoid Shark Bites

Simple rules should be followed by surfers to reduce the chance of shark attacks: <br/> Don't surf at dawn or dusk
Don't surf near river mouths or in flood
Don't urinate in your wetsuit
Don't surf with a bleeding wound

The Gracetown area, about 270 kilometers (167 miles) south of Perth. is well-known for surfing and sharks. Surfer Paul Paterson, brother of former professional West Australia surfer Jake Paterson, said lone-surfing was usually not a problem, but at certain times of the year sharks were known to follow whales and salmon to the area. "There's a lot of whales in really close and that seems to attract the sharks this time of year," Paterson said. "March, April and May is a very dangerous season because its the salmon season and it increases the probability of sharks." He said South Point beach was a very protected spot and a good place to surf after a big storm. "The last guy that got attacked by a shark was just around the corner, which is only about one or two kilometers away," he said. [Source: Katherine Fenech and Aja Styles, West Australia Today August 17, 2010]

Shark expert Mike Roennfeldt said "We've always been of the opinion that the danger time of the year was the October, November early December period with the whales being followed by the sharks and that's when we should be watching out but just lately we've had quite a few incidents with great whites along this south-west coast and it probably means we should be more vigilant right though the year."

According to the West Australian government August to November was "a risk period" and , "grey, dull days," were the times when recent shark attacks seem to have occurred. He said the risk was greater for people out in deep waters diving and spear fishing. Recent research has found that sharks’ diving behaviour is affected by temperature and the moon, that female white sharks have different movement patterns to males, and that Australian white sharks have home territories they always return to.

Anti-Shark Measures in Australia and South Africa

In Australia, lifeguards on towers and spotters in planes keep an eye out for sharks in water. A green flag on the lifeguard tower means everything is safe. Red and white flag means a shark has been spotted. If someone is attacked rescues are made with helicopters and the famous Australian lifeguard rowboats.

In Perth, Australia, low-flying single-engine planes are used to scan 50 kilometer (31 miles) section of beach. They are linked by radio to beach-based lifesavers, who also look out for sharks. In November 2000, after a 49-year-old father of three was killed by a massive great white shark authorities Perth considered investing in a multi-million dollar sonar system to detect movements of big fish through sonar beams. The system, developed by a Canadian company, is regarded as environmentally-friendly than nets and could be used in conjunction with beach aerial patrols..

In South Africa Spotters are on permanent watch at four beaches, and at six during summer, using a simple but effective system of flags and sirens between the look-out and a beach-based controller that beach-goers depend on — even if unknowingly. Not everyone listens to the spotters. A British man lost part of his legs in 2011 after ignoring the Fish Hoek beach's closure. "Since the programme began in 2004, we've had over 1,200 shark sightings," said Titley. "People report sharks just swimming straight past them, so if sharks really did want to eat people, we'd be suffering a lot more attacks that what we do," she added.

Shark protection devices used in Australia

Shark Culling

Some tourist-intensive locations, like Australia, have resorted to shark culling to minimize shark attacks and killing sharks after attacks because of public pressures to do so. Many experts say this is counterproductive in part because sharks are often migratory and those that have attacked humans are long gone by the time efforts to capture or kill them take place. Sharks also play important roles in the ocean ecosystem.

Following reports that shark numbers had increased in West Australia, Premier Colin Barnett said his government would look into raising the number of sharks fishermen were allowed to catch, according to ABC Australia.

Does culling work?Ryan Kempster and Shaun Collin of the University of Western Australia wrote in The Conversation: The answer is no. When shark culling was carried out in Hawaii, between 1959 to 1976, over 4,500 sharks were killed and yet there was no significant decrease in the number of shark bites recorded. Pre-emptively killing sharks is a response based on emotion rather than of scientific data. [Source: Ryan Kempster, Shark biologist, The University of Western Australia; Shaun Collin, Winthrop Professor School of Animal Biology and the Oceans Institute, The University of Western Australia, The Conversation, November 28, 2013]

Shark Nets

Many beaches in Australia and South Africa are protected from sharks with nets. Before nets were installed Australia it lead the world in reported shark attacks. In the seven years before nets were installed there were ten positively identified shark attacks, seven of them fatal, and least ten probable attacks. Since the nets were introduced across New South Wales in 1937 there has been one fatal shark attack and 33 unprovoked interactions, according to New South Wales Department of Primary Industries data.

The same can not be said for the sharks and other marine life. They become entangled and inevitably die from suffocation. In Queensland alone 20,500 sharks of all kinds were killed over a 16 year period. During that same time 468 endangered dugongs, 317 porpoises, 2,654 sea turtles, and 10,889 rays were also killed. Some environmentalist advocated getting rid of the nets on the moral ground that the sea is the realm of sharks and other sea creatures and people are the intruders.┡

Old Style Shark Net

Ryan Kempster and Shaun Collin of the University of Western Australia wrote in The Conversation: The use of “shark” nets has been the primary shark mitigation policy of the New South Wales Government for over 60 years, But a report by the Department of Primary Industries showed that 23 of the 139 (17 percent) attacks in the state, between 1937 and 2009, occurred at netted beaches. [Source: Ryan Kempster, Shark biologist, The University of Western Australia; Shaun Collin, Winthrop Professor School of Animal Biology and the Oceans Institute, The University of Western Australia, The Conversation, November 28, 2013]

Data from New South Wales’s shark netting program, covering the period between September 2018 and April 2019, revealed nets at some of the state’s most popular beaches has killed hundreds of animals, including endangered species. A total of 395 animals were trapped in nets protecting 51 beaches from Newcastle to Wollongong – but only 23 were targeted species: white, bull or tiger sharks. [Source: Mark Saunokonoko, Nine Digital, August 6, 2019]

Shark Warning Systems

Warning signs are sometimes put up at beaches known to be frequented by “dangerous” sharks. This strategy is common practice in California and other places frequented by large sharks.

Harpswell, Maine was the site of a fatal great white shark attack in July 2020. After the town deployed a lifesaving purple shark warning flag system that was used twice in 2022 and twice in 2021. The flag is raised at any nearby public beaches for up to 24 hours following a shark sighting. “It's a novelty, so people wonder what it is and they can ask questions about it," a local businesswoman said. "We’re just trying to create an awareness, if you will, and a little bit of education for the public so that they can make a relatively informed decision when they're kayaking, canoeing, sailing, swimming, whatever they’re doing." [Source: Alex Haskell, News Center Maine, July 27, 2022]

In 2022 Harpswell expanded its flag warning system by adding a year-round 24/7 hotline for folks to call and report shark sightings and initiated a pilot program using a large real-time shark warning buoy. When a tagged white shark swims nearby, the buoy registers pings allowing coastal communities to be warned faster than ever before. “If we can prove this is a good use of funds for public safety, then in the future we could potentially purchase more,” a town official said.

New style net

Shark Protection Devises

Devises on the market that to protect people from sharks include cages for divers; survival sacks for downed pilots; steel mesh suits; and a devise called a Shark Shield, which emits an electronic field intended to repel sharks. Some divers protect themselves from sharks with "bangsticks," devises powered with a cartridge from a.357 magnum handgun that can kill a shark if placed on the predator's head.

Surfers have tested prototype electromagnetic shark-deterring surfboards alongside a blacktip shark at Aliwal Shoal near Durban, South Africa. Shark deterrents that give an electric shock to sharks that get too close have proven to be very effective. During the 2000 Sydney Olympics, to make sure triathletes who swam in Sydney Harbor during the swimming portion of the race they weren't attacked by sharks, they were accompanied by divers outfit with devices called PODs, which drive off sharks by producing electrical charges that irritate sensory receptors in the shark. POD stands for Protective Underwater Device.

According to Surfer Today: The market offers five main types of shark deterrents: magnetic repellents, electric repellents, sound repellents, semiochemical repellents, and visual repellents. They reach the consumer market in the form of surf leashes, rubber bands, spray cans, and wetsuits. Some are more appropriate for surfers; others are more comfortable for divers and occasional swimmers. Although shark repellents and shark deterrents will never be 100 percent effective, they will definitely provide you some peace of mind. This is especially true if you surf the most popular spots in Florida, South Africa, California, Australia, and other shark-infested beaches. [Source: Surfer Today]

SharkBanz 2 is one of the most popular shark repellents for surfers. It uses no batteries, chemicals, or electricity to stop the predator's attack. The technology relies on magnetic waves emitted by the band that disrupts the shark's electro-receptors. It is worn on the wrist or ankle. It uses patented powerful magnetic technology that creates an electromagnetic field that is thousands of times stronger than the shark's natural electrical senses. When a shark approaches this field, it is disrupted and quickly turns away. It can be worn over a wetsuit or directly on the skin and is easy to use. Its deterrent field is approximately 3-6 feet (1-2 meters) in size, but wearing two Sharkbanz 2 bands (one on the ankle and another on the opposite wrist) can increase the overall deterrent field size and provide greater protection.

Ocean Guardia Freedom Surf+ is a shark deterrent solution developed by Ocean & Earth and former professional surfer Tom Carroll. It features a streamlined electrode and black antenna design and comes with a transferable power module, a charging dock, and one tail pad/antenna that is ready to install on your surfboard. The brand says it's the world's only scientifically proven and independently tested electrical shark deterrent. Shark Shield Freedom 7 is a diving device that creates a six-meter-long electrical field that keeps sharks away. It gives you up to six hours of protection from all predatory sharks. It can be used at depths of up to 164 feet (50 meters). The device is compact, lightweight, and versatile and is intended to be worn by the user. It creates a protective electrical field around the user that is approximately 6 meters (20 feet) by 4 meters (13 feet) in diameter and is scientifically proven to be effective at turning sharks away.

Radiator Diverter is a wetsuit that, used in conjunction with a shark deterrent surfboard sticker, disrupts the shark's visual perception and presents the wetsuit user as potentially dangerous and not pleasant to taste. The wetsuit features a striped pattern that is similar to the patterns found on many poisonous fish, which are known to be avoided by sharks. The SharkStopper emits an acoustic signal that repels sharks. The device automatically powers itself on in the water and works for four hours non-stop. It can be charged via a USB or a power outlet.

The following solutions are no longer available in the market. The Modom Shark Leash is a surf leash that incorporates magnetic technology that repels sharks. It doesn't lose its deterrent powers over time, and it requires no charging. The Anti Shark 100 is a repellent spray that keeps 15 species away from anyone who uses it. The eco-friendly product does not harm sharks or wildlife, and it does not affect fish. Once it is released, sharks won't get near it for approximately 30-45 minutes. The NoShark is an electronic shark deterrent surf leash. It sends out a high-voltage proprietary signal that short-circuits the gel in a shark's nose. It is rechargeable, with an active life of approximately five-and-a-half to six-and-a-half hours. The Shark Shocker is an ankle or wristband featuring a rare-earth neodymium-iron-boride magnet. When activated in the water, it emits a magnetic field that interferes with the shark's ampullae of Lorenzini.

Shark Repellents

Scientists have also tried dyes, chemicals and bubble curtains. In World War II, U.S. Navy pilots were given a “Shark Chaser” made with a black dye made from copper acetate to use if they were shot down in the sea. It proved not be very effective, In 1972, University of Maryland shark expert Eugenie Clark discovered a Red Sea fish, the Moses sole, that secreted a milky liquid that repelled sharks. Promising repellent were never developed because it was realized that the substance had to be shot directly into a shark’s mouth to be effective.

One repellent that showed great promise was A-2, a clear, yellowish substance derived from extracts of dead sharks collected at New Jersey fish markets and piers. Fishermen have long noted that sharks tend to stay clear of dead sharks. In tests, sharks excited by blood released in their tank scattered when A-was is introduced. As of 2004, the repellent had proved to be effective with Caribbean reef, black nose, nurse and lemon sharks but had not been tested with great white, mako and oceanic white tip sharks. A-2 seems to trigger a chemical messenger in sharks that prompts a fright reaction. A dose of 120 milliliters is enough to scare off sharks and keep them away for two hours if a couple of drops are added every minute, The repellent seems to only affect sharks and not other fish. It can also bring mesmerize sharks — put into a stupor by being placed on their backs — out of their trance.

In 1968, the Navy ended its effort to develop a shark repellent. Shark expert George Burgess, said: “Ivory soap is just as good a repellent as anything,” he explains. “Sharks don’t like surfactants. You could put any number of chemicals in a shark’s face and it’ll go away. The problem is, you’d have to have a continual high concentration [of the substance] in the water — like people out on a barge continually pumping the water full of chemicals — and that’s impossible [in a real-world situation]. You’re never really going to solve the problem using that route.” [Source: Colleen Sharkey, Shark Sagas, June 9, 2013]

Shark Protection Technology

According to the Wall Street Journal: As conservation efforts bolster the shark population, Australia is plowing millions of dollars into protecting beachgoers. Here are some of the technologies being used. [Source: Rachel Pannett, Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2017]

1) Drones: Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are being used to spot sharks that pose a potential danger to swimmers and surfers. When a shark is sighted it is reported to police and local lifeguards at beaches. Drones are often used around summer vacations when many Australians head to the beach.

2): Shark Tagging: Scientists are tagging sharks — including great whites, the predator in the movie “Jaws” — so they can learn more about their movements. They say understanding sharks’ patterns will help identify areas where swimmers are at risk of attack.

3) Sonar Technology: Sonar buoys detect and identify sharks using the same technology that goes into facial recognition software. The system uses multibeam sonar transducers mounted on the ocean floor to scan for marine life. Onboard software studies a detected object’s swimming pattern to determine whether it is a shark and, if so, relays a message to lifeguards so they can raise an alarm.

4) Smart Drumlines: Unlike traditional aquatic traps, or drumlines, which kill the sharks they lure in, smart drumlines alert authorities when a shark is captured so they can tag and relocate it. Around 90 percent of the animals caught survive. Smart drumline technology was developed on Réunion, a French territory in the Indian Ocean, which experienced a spate of fatal attacks.

5) Shark Barriers: Traditional shark nets often harm sharks and other sea life caught in them. These conservation-friendly barriers are designed to separate sharks from swimmers, but not trap them. Two attempts to install them on the New South Wales coast failed because of rough swells, highlighting the risks of trialing new technology.

SharkSafe Barrier

The SharkSafe Barrier is a shark deterrent made up of a series of dark coloured floating pipes anchored vertically to the ocean floor. The dark pipes, lined with magnets, sway and drift in the ocean, very deliberately mimicking the appearance of a kelp forest. South African Mike Rutzen, known for free diving with great white sharks, concepted the design after observing seals in Cape Town’s notorious shark alley racing into forests of kelp to escape being killed by great white sharks. Time and again, on approaching the kelp, the sharks would turn away and refuse to enter these areas.Not a single great white or other shark had breached their barrier in six years of testing in Gansbaai, a coastal settlement in South Africa’s Western Cape, Andreotti says. [Source: Mark Saunokonoko, Nine Digital, August 6, 2019]

shark barrier in South Africa with the new style net

A prototype of the The SharkSafe Barrier was tested in in Reunion Island, the site of 30 shark attacks and 11 fatalities between 2011 and 2019. The prototype is made up of 200 pipes, pinned to the sea floor. Shark researchers Sara Andreotti says the barrier can become a tourist attraction as well as a shark deterrent because of the marine life that lives on the artificial reef that forms on the concrete blocks that pin the pipes to the floor.

After that initial scoping dive in Reunion, a SharkSafe Barrier test grid was installed at the Bay of Saint-Paul. Twice a week a diver would go down and chum the waters with blood and rotten fish guts inside the 10 meters x 10 meters walls, made up of 200 floating pipes. After six months of testing in Reunion, no sharks had entered the barrier, Andreotti says. “It is actually a square that is now full of fish. No sharks have penetrated or even come near the barrier. An artificial reef has started to grow on the concrete blocks. Seaweed and organic matter is attracting small fish, which in turn brings in bigger fish. Andreotti points out that sharks, dolphins, turtles and other sea creatures cannot get caught up and die in the barrier. One of the biggest criticisms levelled at shark nets by conservation groups is the large number of sharks and other animals that perish.

Image Sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wikimedia Commons, International Shark Attack File, South African Shark Spotters, Australia First Aid, Natal government, Queensland government, New South Wales government and West Australia government

Text Sources: Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, Global Shark Attack File (GSAF), National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2023

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