10 Ways to Stay Safe Around Great White Sharks

Great White Shark Shark Safety Tips

A white shark checks out a kayaker – taken a year ago at Nauset Beach.

Summer is in full swing on the Cape now, which means that both swimmers and white sharks are sharing the same waters. While the sharks have no plans to hunt the swimmers en masse like in a corny Sci-Fi movie, they aren’t harmless creatures either. All sharks are wild animals, and when you swim in the ocean, you’re a guest in their home, which is really a sort of wilderness.

Just as you wouldn’t wander into a desert or remote mountain chain without taking precautions for wild animals, you should be aware of your safety when swimming in the white shark’s habitat.

1. Don’t Swim When The Water Isn’t Visible.

This includes swimming at night, during dawn and dusk, and when the water is unusually murky. White sharks largely rely on their sight to distinguish between tasty prey (seals) and not-tasty prey (humans), and if they are uncertain, they may give a test bite to figure out what sort of creature you are.

2. Don’t Swim Where There Are Seals, Or Gatherings of Bait Fish.

Seals are white sharks’ preferred food, so there’s a good chance there’s also a white shark in the water observing them from a distance. Even though humans aren’t on the shark’s menu, it’s not worth the risk.

3. Don’t Swim If Sharks Have Been Spotted In The Area.

This seems like a no-brainer, but people often take silly chances if they think “it’s not going to be me.” Heed the warnings of any signs that have been posted.

4. Don’t Swim Alone.

A solitary individual of any species can’t be defended by other members of its group, and a white shark may seek it out as prey.

5. Stay Close To Shore.

The further out you swim in the water, the further away you get from other swimmers (see #4) and the further away you are from help.

6. Don’t Wear Shiny Jewelry In The Water.

The sunlight reflecting off the jewelry makes an interesting pattern that resembles a darting fish or seal, and can attract sharks.

7. Don’t Swim With An Open Wound.

Sharks’ sensitivity to blood is well-known, and any type of blood can pique their interest.

8. When Leaving The Area Where A Shark Has Been Spotted, Don’t Splash Around.

Splashing is a signal of distress, and can draw a shark’s attention to you.

9. Don’t Spearfish In Areas Frequented By White Sharks.

The amount of blood spearfishing generates can put you at great danger. If a white shark approaches you while spearfishing, drop your catch and leave immediately!

But what happens if you encounter a white shark in the water?

10. Don’t Panic!

A wild hearbeat and erratic movements can increase a white shark’s curiosity – see #8. The white shark may leave when its curiosity about you has been satisfied, so your calm reactions will demonstrate that you are neither threat or prey. Maintain eye contact with the shark if you can, or at least don’t turn your back on it – white sharks are ambush predators, so don’t give it an opportunity to attack by appearing distracted. If you can create any sort of barrier between you and the shark (with a surfboard, for instance), use it.

When you are able leave the water, do so calmly, quickly, and with as little splashing as possible.

Bonus Tip: Don’t Seek Out White Sharks!

Look, sharks are cool, and it’s obvious that they aren’t the mindless killers we once thought they were. But they are wild animals, and can easily become dangerous animals, especially if they are provoked by an encounter with a human. The diving professionals who swim with great whites outside of a cage are doing so at great risk to their lives, and their actions are controversial. You can show your love for great whites by helping out groups like the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, not by disturbing white sharks in their own home!


Shark Safety Tips – City of Cape Town

WikiHow – How to Prevent a Shark Attack

Stephen P. Leatherman, “Dr. Beach’s Survival Guide”


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