Sharks as a species produce a wide variety of feelings in different people. As divers, snorkelers or free divers we usually cherish every moment we get to witness these top predators in their natural environment, whereas some people are too afraid of being attacked by one that they won’t even jump in their local swimming pool! We are all aware that they are powerful carnivorous creatures that can grow many times the size of a human. The question is, is it dangerous to dive with sharks? Although there is risk involved in everything we do, the answer to this question is a firm no.
So why do so many people still believe that sharks are man killers? Sure, many species of sharks could kill us if they wanted, but they do no prey on humans. We are simply aliens in their environment, and something to either be frightened of or intrigued by. Many species of shark would either swim away from us the second they see us, or maybe check us out in interest, the same way we would check out a turtle on a dive.
This is not the way that many non-divers perceive sharks however, and that is largely to do with sharks being negatively portrayed in the media. Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic movie ‘Jaws’ and other such films portray sharks as blood thirsty monsters that will actively hunt humans and even pick on certain individuals. Many television shows, even by networks that claim to help raise awareness, still show sharks as evil killers with title names such as “Ocean of Fear” or “Restless Fury”. It is no surprise that anyone who only gets to witness the shark from their living room sofa thinks they are something to be feared.
Then at the same time, sharks do sometimes attack humans. In 2014 the Australian government ordered the cull of large sharks near swimming beaches in Western Australia. It was implemented because 7 people died on Western Australian beaches between 2010 and 2013. At the same time, over 1500 people die every year by falling out of bed, but we are yet to see any government banning beds. On average 5 people are fatally injured by sharks each year globally, compared to the 1.2 million people killed each year by car accidents around the world. Ok, everybody knew that cars can be dangerous but we need them, and we don’t need sharks. Well actually we (and the oceans) need sharks! As top predators they are vital to maintaining a balance in the food chain, which is essential for the health of marine ecosystems worldwide.
Something that every shark fearing diver should consider, is how dangerous our own sport can potentially be! Roughly 100 people die each year from scuba diving accidents, and many more are injured. But I have never met a diver who was too scared of the risks to go diving, they just accept them and try to dive in as safe a manner as possible.
Still fear is fear. I am afraid of heights, even when stood on solid ground. Many people are scared of cockroaches despite the fact that they can cause no harm what so ever (unless you chocked on one while eating it). What I am trying to say is that fears can be irrational and no amount of statistics, or sound information will get rid of that fear.
So if you are still worried that you may be attacked by a shark on your next dive, these tips can help make that already tiny possibility even less likely.
- Avoid diving in areas where sharks are known to be actively hunting when the visibility is poor. With their reduced view they may mistake you for their natural prey, such as a seal.
- Never solo dive in areas where sharks hunt. Stick close to your dive buddy as sharks are far more likely to attack individuals than a group. In South Africa seals use this technique to help protect themselves from the Great White Shark.
- If a shark is interested in having a nibble (which it almost certainly will not be) then it will first want to investigate you by swimming around and checking you out first. This gives you a chance to calmly and slowly swim back to the shore or boat.
- Avoid diving a dusk or dawn as this is when most shark species are active. With reduced light levels they might confuse you for something else, so if you want to dive at these times, take a bright torch with you to make sure there is no confusion!
Personally I would love to spend every day for the rest of my life swimming with sharks, although I fear this will not happen. It is not us that should fear sharks, sharks should fear us. Each year humans kill roughly 100 million sharks, most of these sharks have their fins chopped off alive and then chucked back into the water, but some of them are also killed for their teeth, or just for “Sport”. So basically 20 million sharks die each year for every person killed. It is time that we all stopped fearing sharks and started protecting them, or it won’t be too long before these majestic creatures simply become a part of history.
‘Is it Safe to Dive with Sharks?’ was written by Mike
Photo Credit: National Geographic