Getting bit by a shark is less likely to happen to you then getting struck by lightning. However, given the hype of Discovery Channel’s terrifying Shark Week, we thought we would calm your fears and let you sleep soundly by sharing some tips from the experts on how to avoid attacks. Besides staying out of the water altogether, there is valuable information that you should know in order to reduce your risks of becoming shark bait.
Introducing our next educational literature series on TheSurfChannel.com, The Science of Sharks, Part 1: “Tips To Prevent Shark Attacks.”
Expert scientists have been researching these mighty predators for years, following trends and feeding patterns. For all the brave souls that take the gamble of paddling out into the open surf each day, despite what dwells beneath, here are some tips thanks to the President of the Shark Research Committee, Ralph S. Collier.
1. Don’t wear bright contrasting colors.
“Sharks are attracted to bright, contrasting color,” Collier told The Surf Channel, President of the Shark Research Committee. “White sharks can see color. We do not know what their spectrum shift is because they live in the water, but we know they have the ability. No matter what their spectrum shift might be, they’re going to see a pattern rather than just a solid image.
“For a surfer or diver, wearing a black wetsuit doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to confuse a shark into thinking you are a seal. Not only do they have good visual acuity, they have a great ability to see objects against a contrasting background like a silhouette in the sense.
“A diver doesn’t look anything like a pinniped, a seal or a sealion. Sharks know what they look like, from the tip of their little nose to their tail where the hind flippers are. Human beings aren’t solid, rather only solid from our head to our waist. From the waist down we have two legs, so our body – or in a sense our image – is split in half from the waist down. And seals have short flippers; we have long spindly arms. So moving through the water, we don’t even closely resemble a seal.
“The thought that a white shark would mistake a 6 foot long skinny surfboard for a 1,400 pound elephant seal is highly unlikely.”
2. Remove jewelry before paddling out.
“Don’t wear jewelry in the ocean,” Collier told The Surf Channel. “When fish move through the water, they flash [because of their scales].
“One of the attacks we had at Sunset Beach was a young lady who was wearing a large silver ring on her left hand when she was swimming during a grunion spawn. She was swimming and all of a sudden, something grabbed her hand and pulled her ring off. She had these nice cuts that looked like razor slices in the palm of her hand, and she had additional abrasions on the top of her hand.
“When I looked at her wounds and took some measurements, the cuts matched up perfectly to a juvenile white shark. (I believe) the white shark saw this flashing jewelry going in and out of the water and probably thought it was a fish, so it took a bite.
“Unfortunately, it was her hand.”
3. Check your calendar to avoid areas prone to attacks.
“Try to avoid areas prone to attacks. It’s not a good idea to go surfing and swimming during the middle of grunion spawns,” Collier said. “When you’re out in the water, you can see the little fish spawn and that’s going to attract a lot of different predators. Sharks will be in those areas to feed on the fish.
“It’s also a good idea to try to avoid areas during the times of the year when we’ve had other incidents [of shark attacks] at that same location. October is not a good month to go to Surf Beach and certain times of the year are not good to go to other surf breaks along the California coast.
“Sometimes the surf is best during those times of the year, yet we only have shark interactions at these locations during certain months. More than 50% of shark attacks along the Pacific Coast are from recurring locations.
“Bird Rock up in Bodega Bay had nine attacks in the same location. Look at a chart and think about surfing someplace else that doesn’t have those shark interactions.
“You have to remember that when you go into the ocean, it’s their home.”
4. Be alert of other wildlife.
“You simply have to be alert at all times,” Collier advises. “If you’re out surfing and you suddenly see a small school of fish jump out of the water, that’s a sign that there’s a predator underneath.
“Sure, it could be just another big fish or it could be a shark, or something else… but when you see them jumping up out of the water, that’s not normal behavior. They’re doing that to avoid something that’s trying to eat them.
“Seals will give you a warning sign when there’s a predator near. If you see seals suddenly surfing ashore in the waves, it can be a sign of something on the move. Although they do that sometimes, if there is a group of seeing doing it, you might want to consider getting out of the water and keeping an eye out…
“When seals head towards the beach, they’re telling you that there’s something big out there because they’re running from it. They don’t want to be eaten [and neither should you].”
Shark researcher Ralph S. Collier also notes a few statistics to put shark attacks in perspective for surfers:
“Crocodiles and alligators kill about 2,000 people a year. Hippos kill about 3,000 people a year. Elephants kill 500 people a year. Lions kill about 250 people a year. Bees kill about a 100 people a year.
“We get about an average of 6 fatalities a year from sharks [worldwide], if you go back about a half a century until now.”
SO KEEP SURFING!
All research provided by Ralph S. Collier and the Shark Research Committee. The Shark Research Committee studies sharks so that we as athletes can enjoy the ocean safely. For exclusive shark news and updates, sign up for the Shark Research Committee quarterly newsletter here. Help scientists at the Shark Research Committee continue to learn more about ocean safety for swimmers and surfers by donating to their research efforts.
Check back on TheSurfChannel.com for The Science of Sharks: Part Two.