Do I Need to be Scared of Sharks while Diving?

 From the depths of the ocean, the worst feared creature is the shark. Whenever we think of sharks the first image that plagues our minds is Jaws or Great Whites. Shark experts have said there is no need to fear the shark since we are not its natural prey. With warnings towards bleeding or splashing in the water, we still are not completely at ease with these territorial creatures. The question is even more pressing for those wishing to dive out in the open ocean where shark numbers increase from the occasional sandbar drifter. 

  Instead of asking “Do I need to be scared of sharks while Diving?”; ask “Is it dangerous to dive with sharks?” or “Which sharks are dangerous?”

The answer to that question depends entirely on the situation. There are many ways to avoid and prevent shark attacks. Fear is not one of them. Keeping a level head, and knowing the facts will help keep you out of harm's way.

Adverse Conditions

     Divers must keep in mind that certain conditions are harmful to everyone, even shore dwellers. Conditions in the water that attract sharks are the following:

  • Dawn or dusk. These times are feeding times for the sharks and most charters leave in the broad light of the morning and board before the sun starts to set. Even though feedings are usually around the sandbar, the risk of a shark encounter is higher for shore swimming and people out in the open ocean. Most shark attacks have occurred between 8 am and 6 pm, but that is because humans crowd the waters more between these hours. Most people steer clear of the seas before and after this time frame. 
  • Stormy waters or after the storm. If storms blow through you can guarantee that will stir up trouble. Unlike dolphins who prefer calmer waters to make guest appearances, sharks prefer the rough waves. Rough waves stir up ocean prey and attract sharks to the action. 
  • River openings and canals. Wherever freshwater meets saltwater you are more likely to be spotted by a shark. You would assume otherwise given the idea that sharks mainly go out into the deep seas. Canals and river openings can be deep and are especially dangerous after a storm as debris and freshwater fish flock to the area. Shark sightings are especially common in these debris-ridden areas.
  • Murky waters, waste, sewage, or fishing piers. Murky waters allow limited viability for divers. Certain places like the Northern Atlantic are murky due to silt, debris, limited light, and large seaweed content. Waste, sewage, and fishing piers attract sharks with the smell especially since sharks are looking to feed on flesh. Human waste can be mistaken for fish food or attract ravenous hungry sharks. Most diving boats are in the middle of the open ocean, just ensure that there is no garbage barge or fishing boat nearby. Also going to the bathroom in the open ocean is not ideal. 

High-Risk Areas

  • Florida and East Coast United States. Most Shark attacks occur in the highly populated counties of Florida on the East Coast for obvious reasons. Bull sharks which are one of the most aggressive shark breeds are brought there by adverse conditions. They also reside in the Gulf but are easier to spot in the calm waters. With more people flooding Florida’s East coast the risk of an attack rises. The other Eastern States like South Carolina and the darker waters of North Carolina are murky and tend to have more swimmers out in the warm seas. New England has fewer reported shark attacks because of the less frequented beaches, however in pre-modern times when people traveled fewer shark attacks increased when unsuspecting people splashed around the shark-ridden seas. Great whites have also been known to vacation here in the Summer. 
  • Queensland and South Wales Australia are home to the Great White which have been known to kill humans and are rumored to like the taste of human flesh. If you enjoy diving with Great Whites this not be a negative, but make sure you take certain precautions while diving with these demons of the deep. 
  • California and Hawaii. The Pacific Ocean attracts the Great White and also has a high human population which attracts more sharks. If you are diving though don’t stress as long as you can see what’s coming. 
  • Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is well known for spearfishing and unfortunately, this attracts many carnivorous sharks. The likelihood that a diver will be attacked is lower than that of a fisherman who spears dives. However, ensuring your surroundings are safe is first and foremost important. 
  • Brazil is known to have the most shark attacks due to its high populations. Keep an eye out if you are diving near populated shores.
  • South Africa is known for the highest attacks and is the Great White dive capital.

Dangerous behaviors

  • Splashing, urinating, and bleeding all attract sharks.
  • Diving with Great Whites puts you at risk, but well-engineered cages can keep you separated from these great fish. Ensure that you chart your Great White dive with experienced charters who have a good reputation. 
  • If you happen to encounter a shark, and cannot get away try pushing back on them. This will usually intimidate them. However, if a shark is aggressively approaching, stand your ground and punch them in the face. If this does not work grab them by the gills or poke them in the eyes. The more you attack their senses and the harder you hit the more you are not worth the bite. 

Breeds that are Attack Unprovoked

  • Great Whites, Bull Sharks, Tiger Sharks, and Oceanic Whitetips are known for attacking unprovoked. Not all the Whitetips and Great Whites have been recorded, but historical accounts of random attacks are common. 
  • The Great White will usually attack humans if they cannot find enough fish to sustain their hunger.
  • Bull Sharks and Tiger Sharks are very territorial and will attack for you invading their waters. They do not like competition of any kind and will go out of their way to attack a peaceful bystander who is in their surrounding fishing ground. 
  • Bull sharks and Tiger sharks are more likely to be angered by your presence, but Great Whites and Whitetips are looking for food.

Shark presence in the ocean is inevitable. Looking for an experienced charter and avoiding dangerous conditions will lower the risk of a dangerous encounter. If you want a radical Great White encounter try to pick times when the shark has finished feeding to climb into the cage. This way you can experience nature and still limit dangerous exposure to the ocean's greatest carnivore. If you wish to plan a safe adventure drop by to speak with Kevin at By the Shore SCUBA Instruction.*

*By the Shore SCUBA Instruction offers courses on SCUBA safety and full PADI certifications from certified PADI instructors. We are not certified to work with or handle animals. Our information regarding sharks is drawn from the expertise of marine biologists and personal experience. We are not marine biologists and do not guarantee that divers will be safe from any marine wildlife attack. Any diver must assume the risk of a shark attack, and choose to research a reliable charter as to lower their risk of death or bodily injury.

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