Great White

How to prevent a shark attack

Picture (above):

Steve Backshall likes sharks. The award-winning wildlife TV host has had a lifelong fascination with the marine animals. Here he shares his tips for preventing an unwanted run-in.

He is a patron of the Shark Trust, a U.K. charity dedicated to their conservation. Through his work on programs such as Deadly 60 and Swimming with Monsters, Backshall has learned the importance of showing sharks a healthy respect when sharing their waters. If you encounter one in the wild, this lesson could save your life. “Bear in mind that if you do get attacked by a shark, these much-maligned and beautiful animals will be demonized,” he says, “regardless of whether it was their fault or not.” 

1 Choose carefully where you swim

“There’s only one place on Earth we’re aware of where you can dive outside the cage with a Great White: Guadalupe, Mexico, where the water is so clear that the shark can see you’re not prey. [Only one operator is known to have offered this controversial activity.] Otherwise, diving with Great Whites is done from a cage, full stop. In the murky waters around Dyer Island in South Africa, where these sharks shoot up from depth to hit seals at the surface, to go for a swim would be … unwise.” 

Watch their body language

“Sharks will tell you if they’re in a dangerous mood. If a shark has its back arched, its mouth open and gills billowing, its pectoral fins dropped low, and its movements are sharp and angular, it’s ready for action. Stay inside the cage! But if the shark is moving languidly with its mouth closed and its fins splayed wide like wings, it’s merely cruising.

Feel no fear

“Don’t be afraid. Sharks have evolved to focus on stress signals in prey and can sense your fear. Faster breathing and a quickened pulse are transmitted through the water as vibrations. So breathe deeply and relax.”

4 Own the water 

“Great Whites are surprisingly meek in their interactions with other predators. When preying on seals, it’s the tiny, defenseless pups they’ll go for. In their confrontations with each other, they’ll swim side by side to compare who’s biggest, and the smaller one will swim off at top speed. When you’re in the water with a Great White, be big, have attitude and confidence, watch your back and the sharks will ignore you.”

Take note of your surroundings

“It doesn’t matter how much money or time you’ve spent getting to Guadalupe or any other diving location. If it’s getting close to dusk—which is when sharks tend to switch into predatory mode—or if the visibility is poor, or there are more sharks than planned, or anything is less than perfect, don’t be a hero: Quit the dive immediately.”


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