We’ve had two shark attacks in a matter of months here in The Bahamas and I’m not gonna lie – it makes me nervous.
The first poor victim lost part of her arm, and the second had a very nasty bite to her foot. Both attacks took place in an area off the coast of New Providence where I’ve snorkeled many times.
Thankfully, incidents like these aren’t common. In the eight years that I’ve been an islander, it’s been rare to hear about any sharks savaging swimmers. Mostly, it’s the other way around – with sharks falling victim to fishermen, trophy hunters, or just idiots on a power trip.
I love sharks. I love that they are integral to the health of the oceans and are some of the oldest creatures on the planet. I love that The Bahamas became a shark sanctuary in 2011, protecting over 40 shark species. When I enter the ocean, I realize that I am on their turf and I deeply respect that.
However, sometimes those things don’t always help to quell the nagging fears in the back of my head. In an effort to not let needless worrying keep me out of the waters that I love, I find that it helps me if I have a game plan.
Should a shark ever choose to tangle with me, I’m prepared to do battle. This island girl isn’t going down without a fight, that much is certain. If you, too, need a little boost of confidence to keep shark sensationalism from scaring you out of the sea, here’s a little guide to help you feel prepared to survive a shark encounter:
1. Fight dirty
You may have heard the oft-repeated advice about how you should punch a shark in the nose (snout?). Like most things on the internet, I can’t imagine this is true. Punching a shark on its pointy end seems more likely to give you a bad case of arm-in-shark’s-jaw condition, rather than deter it from biting your extremities. The principle, however, is correct – the best defense is a good offense. A shark’s sensitive parts are its gills and eyes, so if one makes a grab at me, I’m going to go for those. Since eyes are a bit tricky, I figure digging a sharp finger into the gills and going from there should suffice.
2. Eyeball it
Sharks like to sneak up on things, but it’s very hard to blindside your victim while she’s bobbing in the water, eye-balling your every move. I also figure that maintaining eye contact will freak it out, much like it can with my fellow humans. Perhaps the shark will become wracked with social anxiety and the possibility of imminent small talk and just choose to swim away instead.
When it comes to apex predators, you have to go big or go home. The way to get an attacking shark to think twice is to appear bigger and meaner. I plan to spread out in the water and if I’m carrying something, I’ll use that too. Sharks have terrible vision so, with any luck, they’ll think I’m a terrifyingly huge amorphous blob instead of dinner. (This is literally one of the only times in life that I think I’d be happy to be called a “terrifying amorphous blob.”)
4. Never surrender
Sharks are very used to having everything their own way. That’s what happens when you’re the most badass thing in the water. But it’s my theory that it’s made them lazy and the more fight I put up, the more likely that it’ll decide I’m not worth the effort. Struggle, wiggle, punch, kick, pretend I’m in a particularly strenuous Zumba class… I’ll do whatever gets me moving.
5. Use props
Everyone usually has some sort of gear on them when they go swimming (goggles/mask, snorkel, fins, camera, etc.) and these could become valuable tools if locked in a life or death struggle. Even the most battle-scarred shark won’t see a GoPro to the gills coming. Who knows – perhaps one day GoPro will even list underwater self-defense as one of its best-selling features.
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Does any of this make you feel any better? It helps me be less fearful – I hope it does for you too.
And by all means, if you encounter a shark in the water, keep in mind that it’s probably just cruising by and minding its own business. Stay at a safe distance, enjoy the show, and don’t punch it in the gills unless absolutely necessary.