University of Florida

Shark Attacks

Reducing the Risks

While swimming in the surf or catching some waves, you may have wondered how you would react if a shark swam by or—even worse—attacked. Although you have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than getting attacked by a shark, it is still important to learn about shark attacks and how to avoid sharks.

Types of Unprovoked Attacks

In 2013, the United States reported 47 shark attacks, a decrease from the previous year, according to the International Shark Attack File. Of those attacks, 34 were reported as unprovoked, in which a live human was attacked by an unprovoked shark in its natural habitat.

Unprovoked attacks happen in the following situations:

  • Hit and run. These are the most common attacks, and usually occur in the surf zone when a shark mistakes a swimmer or surfer for prey. Injuries are a single bite or wound, and the shark does not return.
  • Bump and bite. These attacks, which are less common, typically happen in deeper waters and involve swimmers or divers. The shark circles and bumps the victim with its head or body before attacking, and it may repeatedly attack and bite. These attacks cause severe or fatal injuries.
  • Sneak. Like the "bump-and-bite" attacks, the sneak attack occurs in deeper waters. However, the shark attacks without warning and doesn't circle or bump. Repeat attacks and multiple bites can occur, leading to severe and fatal injuries.

How to Avoid Sharks

While the relative risk of a shark attack is very small, you should still know ways to decrease this risk. Here are some tips to keep in mind on your next beach visit:

  • Sharks are most active from sunset to sunrise, so avoid being in the water between those times.
  • Stay in a group. Sharks are more likely to attack solitary individuals.
  • Do not swim or float too far from shore—being farther out puts you further from help.
  • Avoid wearing bright or patterned clothing. Sharks see contrast well.
  • Stay out of the water if you are bleeding or are near storm drains and sewage outputs. These smells can attract sharks.
  • Understand the facts and myths about sharks. For example, seeing porpoises does not mean sharks are not around.
  • Do not swim near fishermen. Sharks can smell the bait and be attracted from long distances.
  • Take note of bait fish activity and diving birds as sharks could be nearby.
  • Avoid erratic movements, such as excessive splashing.
  • Be careful between sandbars and near drop offs—these are sharks favorite places.
  • Stay calm and keep your position as quietly as possible if you do see shark.
Adapted and excerpted from:

George Burgess, "Reducing the Risk of a Shark Encounter: 12 Tips for Avoiding a Shark Attack," Florida Museum of Natural History (accessed 07/2014).

George Burgess, "The International Shark Attack File 2013 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary," Florida Museum of Natural History (accessed 07/2014).

Great white shark

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