Tips for avoiding shark attack

A man has died after a shark attack near Gordon's Bay in the Western Cape: a stark reminder the ocean should still be thought of as a 'wilderness' area where predators roam.

Some tips on avoiding shark attacks:

These precautions from The International Shark Attack File and Dr Sheldon Dudley of the Natal Sharks Board are aimed at minimising the risk of shark attacks (which, Dudley reminds us, are rare events):

  • Swim at recognised beaches where lifeguards and medical assistance are available if required.
  • Seek local knowledge before swimming. Locals may know if shark activity has been reported in the area, for example.
  • Don't swim where there are indications that predators might be attracted to the area. Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action. A stranded marine mammal on the beach might leach shark-attractive substances into the water.
  • Don't venture too far offshore. Preferably, remain where you can stand. More incidents occur at the backline of the surf-zone or beyond. Also, wandering too far from shore isolates you and distances you from assistance.
  • Swim with others. Sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual, and if one member of the group is bitten, the other members can get that person to shore and seek medical help.
  • Avoid being in the water during hours of darkness, dusk or dawn when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage. Note, however, that Dudley says this caution will not help to avoid Great White attacks, as they have been known to attack at various times.
  • Don't enter the water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating --- a shark's olfactory ability is acute.
  • If someone is bitten, the most important first aid measure is to stop the bleeding. 
  • Porpoises do not indicate the absence of sharks --- both often eat the same food items.
  • Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid uneven tanning and bright colored clothing --- sharks see contrast particularly well.
  • Wearing shiny jewelry is discouraged because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
  • Refrain from excess splashing and don't allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements. 
  • The area between sandbars or near steep dropoffs are favorite hangouts for sharks. 
  • And needless to say: don't enter the water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. Never harass a shark.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, updated January 2012

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