“Don’t go in the water,” was the tagline of the 1975 Steven Spielberg movie, Jaws, a film that scared the bejesus out of anyone that watched it, and to some extent seeded shark phobia (actually called galeophobia) into the minds of people all over the world. It might be old, but that film is still viewed by just about anyone as the scariest shark film ever made. You could say, however, that a movie that depicts a creature so vicious and hellbent on destruction isn’t too realistic. Sharks generally don’t torment the public with such enthusiasm. But sharks do kill people, or maim people, or even just nudge people. And today we are going to give you the rundown on how to get out of a situation like that, in this episode of the Infographics Show, What to Do If You Get Attacked By a Shark.
Let’s first have a look at the likelihood of you being bitten or killed by a shark, by looking at some statistics. Fortunately, there is data out there that tells us about all the latest attacks. We can look at shark attack maps that tell us that over just the last few years, there have been numerous attacks, some of which led to death. For example, the death of a 34-year old in the waters around South Africa in 2017. According to the website trackingsharks.com, the man was diving for abalone when a “shark struck from underneath and dragged him underwater.” A witness said they heard him scream, the shark came back up shaking the man in its jaws, and then it was game over. In a nearby spot, also in 2017, a 14-year old boy was bitten when surfing. He survived and got away with just needing a few stitches. In fact, contrary to popular belief, a lot of people only sustain minor injuries when sharks bite. You don’t always lose a huge chunk of you.
The International Shark Attack File is the place to go to understand how many shark attacks there are, as it has comprehensive data from way back. It actually gives you a map of shark attacks from 1580 to the present day, but obviously scores of attacks will not have been reported. Nonetheless, let’s have a look at the world’s danger spots. Number one is the USA, with 1,407 attacks. Number two is Australia with 621 attacks, and number three is South Africa with 252 attacks. Following that you have Brazil (104), New Zealand (51), Papua New Guinea (48), Mascarene Islands (Reunion Island) (42) and Mexico (40). This means lots of you watching should listen closely. Sharks even attack in the chilly waters off the coast of the UK, as happened in 2017 to a surfer on the South Devon coast. The result, a bloody thumb. It was only a smooth hound shark, which aren’t very dangerous. But if you come from Australia, where that has been a rise in attacks over recent years, you might meet a shark that will do much more than chew on your thumb. There were 15 attacks in the country in 2017, but only one was fatal. In 2015, there were 33 attacks, and two were fatal. According to research, 2017 was just an average year with 88 attacks and five fatalities worldwide. 60 percent of attacks were in the USA.
Ok, so now you know there’s a very small chance you’ll be attacked by a shark, but as the British lottery used to say, “It could be you.” What are your odds of being attacked by a shark? Well, we can say this, sharks kill 1 in 3,748,067 people. Fireworks kill 1 in 340,733 people. Lightning kills 1 in 79,746 people. 1 in 218 people die from falling and 1 in 63 from the flu. So, let’s just say your chances of being attacked are very, very low. In fact, according to data cited by CNN in 2016 (the data was from 1999-2007), the most dangerous animals to people in the U.S. in terms of what will kill you was easily cattle: cows, horses, etc. Hornets, wasps, and bees were next, followed by dogs, insects, snakes, spiders, crocodiles and alligators, and in last place sharks. The thing with crocs and alligators is that they have a better attack-death rate than sharks.
So, before anything else, how do we avoid getting attacked rather than what do we do after we’ve been attacked? Statistics tell us that the people most likely to suffer an attack are those that are surfing, belly-boarding, or just floating on an inflatable. Next are swimmers, followed by divers, and then just some unfortunate folks getting in or out of the water. Almost 90 percent of attacks happen to men, but that’s got nothing to do with a shark’s overparticular palate, it’s just more men seem to be out there in the water doing the things that attract sharks.
Divers, and especially surfers, are often alone, and shark experts tell us that you are less likely to be attacked if you are in a group. They also tell us not to go out too far, swim in murky water, or swim at night when sharks are most active. Don’t go out into the water with an open wound or if you are menstruating, as the sharks can smell your sweet-tasting blood. You also shouldn’t wear shiny jewelry or bright colors, as to a shark, that might look like fish. While you are in the water, don’t splash around like crazy as this also attracts unwanted attention. Another thing is, if there is sea life around you and it suddenly bolts off in all directions as if it heard a final boarding call to ocean-utopia, beware, ‘cos that could mean a shark has entered the area. Lastly, don’t go out if you know it’s an infested area or there are warnings, but that should be obvious.
Ok, you’ve done all that, but you still see a shark in the water near you. What to do now? Well, first you might hope it’s not a Great White shark, as they are the biggest human killers, followed by the Tiger shark and the speedy Shortfin Mako. If you see a shark, your first port of call should be the beach or back onto the boat. Don’t swim like a crazy person or scream, and try not to have a panic attack, leave calmly and coolly. If you cannot, swim towards a group of people. If none of that is possible, and you are out there alone, just stay as still as you can.
If that didn’t work, and the thing nudges up against you and then swims away, it is highly possible it will come back try to take a bite. If it’s a little one, and it just took a nibble, try and stay calm as often sharks won’t like the taste of you. But what if it looks like it’s going for a full-on chew?
If possible, punch the sucker on its nose as hard as you can. If you have a weapon, use that. This is usually quite successful. Sharks don’t like getting punched, just as humans don’t. The thing is, experts tell us if it still comes back, that may mean it isn’t scared, and punching will become less effective. If it grabs you in its jaws again, the next thing is to try and claw at its eyes and also the gill openings. These are the sharks weak spots, a bit like men getting kicked in the nuts. At this point, it’s kind of do or die, and apparently you should now go all out. It’s time to get crazy, because sharks respect power and they might back down. It will keep swimming as it needs to stay alive and pump oxygen through its gills. It may not take you in one go. If it does come back and grabs hold of you again, do not rip yourself out of its mouth as this will take a chunk of you with it, so just keep clawing and punching. The same goes for a friend if they are trying to help you: don’t pull, punch.
We can give you some good news here in that many attacks just involve this one bite, because we humans are not ideal food for sharks. In fact, that limb you lost could have been for nothing, as one expert told National Geographic, “They spit us out because we’re too bony.” We are hard to digest for sharks and so upon biting us, they realize they made a bad menu choice and leave the restaurant, and your half-eaten body. If they did like us, there would be many, many more fatalities in the world.
We’ll leave you with this, a shark attack victim describing what it felt like when a shark took a bite of him: “When he clamped onto me, it was a god-awful crunch. I heard the crunching of teeth plowing through bone, but it didn’t hurt.” Maybe that’s reassuring in a way.
So, how do you think you would react if you were suddenly attacked by a shark?