Summer Survival Week: How to Fend Off a Shark

Posted by David Borgenicht

(Header image created via Canva)

Sometimes you don’t have the option of a bigger boat—here’s how to fend off a shark with whatever you have at hand.



  1. Stay calm:
    If a shark approaches you, it is probably simply curious: large sharks are primarily stealth predators and will typically not show themselves prior to an attack.
  2. Hit the eyes or gills:
    If the shark attacks you, using anything you have—a camera, a probe, a harpoon gun, your fist—hit the shark’s eyes and gills, the areas that are most sensitive to pain.
  3. Make quick, sharp, repeated jabs:
    As predators, sharks will usually follow through on an attack only if they have the advantage, so making the shark unsure of its advantage in any way possible will increase your chances of survival. Contrary to popular opinion, the shark’s nose is not the area to attack, unless you cannot reach the eyes or gills. Hitting the shark simply tells it that you are not defenseless.




  • Always stay in groups:
    Sharks are more likely to attack an individual.
  • Do not wander too far form shore:
    This isolates you and creates an additional danger of being too far from assistance.
  • Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours:
    Sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage in low light.
  • Do not enter the water if you are bleeding from an open wound or if you are menstruating:
    Sharks are drawn to the smell of blood and their olfactory ability is acute.
  • Do not wear shiny jewelry:
    The reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
  • Avoid waters with known effluence or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fishermen, especially if there are signs of baitfish or feeding activity:
    Diving seabirds are good indicators of such activity.
  • Use extra caution when waters are murky:
    Avoid showing any uneven tan lines or wearing brightly colored clothing—sharks see contrast particularly well.
  • If a shark shows itself to you, it may be curious rather than predatory:
    It will probably swim on and leave you alone. If you are under the surface and lucky enough to see an attacking shark, then you do have a good chance of defending yourself if the shark is not too large.
  • Scuba divers should avoid lying on the surface:
    They may look like a piece of prey to a shark, and from there they cannot see the shark approaching.
  • A shark attack is a potential danger for anyone who frequents marine waters, but it should be kept in perspective:
    Bees, wasps, and snakes are responsible for more fatalities each year than sharks, and in the United States the annual risk of death from lightning is 30 times greater than from a shark attack.




  • "Hit and Run" Attacks:
    These are the most common, and typically occur in the surf zone, where swimmers and surfers are the targets. The victim seldom sees its attacker, and the shark does not return after inflicting a single bite or slash wound.
  • "Bump and Bite" Attacks:
    The shark initially circles and often bumps the victim prior to the actual attack. These types of attacks usually involve divers or swimmers in deeper waters, but also occur in nearshore shallows in some areas of the world.
  • "Sneak" Attacks:
    These can occur without warning. With both “bump and bite” and “sneak” attacks, repeat attacks are common, and multiple and sustained bites are the norm. Injuries incurred during this type of attack are usually quite severe, frequently resulting in death.




  • Most shark attacks occur in nearshore waters, typically inshore of a sandbar or between sandbars, where sharks feed and can become trapped at low tide.
  • Areas with steep drop-offs are also likely attack sites. Sharks congregate in these areas, because their natural prey congregates there.
  • Most at risk are surfers and spear fishermen. Surfers venture beyond the backline of waves where the water is deep. Point breaks are often risky surfing areas, as the water becomes deep rapidly. Spear fishers venture out to hunt fish in the same area where sharks are hunting.
  • Almost any large shark, roughly six feet or longer in total length, is a potential threat to humans. But three species in particular have repeatedly attacked man: the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), and the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas). All are cosmopolitan in distribution, reach large sizes, and consume large prey such as marine mammals, sea turtles, and fish as normal elements of their diets.


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(Excerpt from The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.)