Why do sharks attack?


A lot of arguments I get from people when talking about shark conservation is: “But wait, sharks attack and kill people all the time! They’re violent!” Nope. In fact, the average amount of shark attacks that happen a year is 16, with majority not even being fatal. Like all animals, sharks never attack without a reason.

Your chances of being attacked by a shark are just one in 11.5 million. It is easier to win the lottery, get struck by lightning, killed by a cow, killed by a falling coconut, or get killed by a vending machine than it is to get attacked by a shark.

Here’s a list of things that may cause a shark to check you out or attack you:

  • Bright clothing. Sharks have sensitive vision, and see colors differently than we do. Bright or colorful swimsuits can resemble a fish or some other prey. And when you’re splashing and swimming, you very much look like prey in distress, which is a quick meal for opportunistic hunters like sharks.
  • Jewelry. Shimmery jewelry like gold and silver look like scales from a big fish. A shark may get curious and check you out.
  • Splashing. Sharks have special organs in their snout called Ampullae of Lorenzini, which are small, jelly filled pores that act as electroreceptors. These organs are sensitive to movement, and can even sense splashing from miles away. Excessive splashing resembles a large fish that’s in distress, which is another easy meal.
  • Surf boards. Sharks may be sensitive to colors, but they don’t have the best sight in the animal kingdom. A human being on a surf board looks like a seal to a shark. Seals are a Great Whites favorite prey, and they will certainly check you out. Here’s an example of how this looks to sharks from below.
  • Territory. Some sharks are known to claim large areas of water and reefs. Simply swimming in these areas can agitate a shark. Be aware of where you’re swimming.
  • Smell. Sharks have a very good sense of smell. They can be attracted to the smell of blood or even the smell of a restaurant you ate in. Blood, again, resembles a fish that has been injured.
  • Curiosity. Sharks are naturally curious. They do not have hands to touch you with, they explore and check out things with their mouth. A shark may nibble your foot to check you out, not eat you.

What to do if a shark is near you or nibbles on you:

  • Stay calm. This is the best thing you could possibly do. A shark will remain calm if you do as well.
  • Move slowly or not at all. Slow, gentle movements keep the shark calm. Fast, panicked movements scare the shark and provoke it, this is when a shark may attack you in self defense.
  • Don’t hit the shark. Unless the shark is full on attacking you, keep your hands off of it.

How to fend off an aggressive shark:

It’s said the best way to fend off an attacking shark is hitting it’s head with your fists. While this is one way, it’s not the most effective. Hit these areas instead

  • Eyes. Use your fingers and thumbs to pierce the eyes. The shark will immediately back off and swim away, this is a time to escape.
  • Gills. Shove your fingers into its gills. The gills are the sharks only way of breathing. The shark will back off and swim away.
  • Snout. The snout is the most concentrated area of electroreceptors. Use your fingers or fist to aggressively rub this area. This will temporarily put the shark into a state of tonic immobility.

Things to remember:

  • You are in their territory when you swim. They were here first. In fact, they’ve been here for over 400 million years.
  • We kill over 11,417 sharks AN HOUR. Finning, fishing, and consumption of seafood all contribute to the killing of sharks.
  • Without sharks, the world would essentially fall apart. Sharks play one of the biggest roles in the oceans ecosystem. If they’re gone, the ocean is effected, and when the ocean is effected, we are too. Check out this video that explains how important sharks are.

How do I help?

  • Avoid the consumption of seafood. Hundreds of sharks are killed in the process of catching fish. While this isn’t intentional, it’s a big problem. Be sure to purchase fish from sellers that protect sharks.
  • Avoid “scary” shark movies. It is so important to educate people on the effect these movies have on shark populations. 
  • Avoid cosmetic products with squalene. Squalene is a low density compound found in the liver of sharks and other cartilaginous fish.

    Recently it has become a trend for sharks to be hunted to process their livers for the purpose of making squalene health capsules. Squalene is often a common ingredient in lipsticks.

  • Research. Find shark activism groups and petitions. Participate in whatever you can.
  • Make them one of your interests! Sharks are amazing, and there’s over 400 kinds of sharks to learn about. Knowledge can encourage others to protect sharks as well.

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