Minimising the Risk of Shark Encounters
Even though shark attacks are random events and remain an unlikely danger for humans entering the water there is always a level of risk involved (albeit small). People cannot always control the natural environment but they can control their own behaviour. In terms of minimising shark bites to humans culling sharks indiscriminately because they occasionally bite people is not the answer. All life on earth is important and the natural world needs to stay in balance to better support humans who rely on nature to survive. Nature and a balanced ecosystem are not expendable or separate from us - we are part of it and without it humans would certainly die out.
As more people enter the aquatic environment it is inevitable that more encounters with aquatic animals will occur. In some of these encounters sharks will interact with humans and occasionally some people will get bitten.
To minimise the risk of encountering a shark it is essential we increase our knowlwdge of shark behaviour and their biology. People can use this information to better assess the risk of encountering a shark when they swim in the ocean, harbours or rivers around Australia. They can further minimise that risk by planning their trip to the beach and identify potential safety risks. The Australian Shark Attack File has a number of safety and risk minimisation strategies to consider.
The following safety points should be considered and may help minimise the risk:
- Swim at beaches patrolled by Surf Life Savers (they are there to keep an eye on your safety, to look for signs of danger and to assist if you get into trouble).
- Do not swim, dive or surf where dangerous sharks are known to congregate.
- Always swim, dive or surf with other people (the presence of a companion may deter a potentially attack and your companion can assist you if you get into trouble or are bitten by a shark).
- Do not swim in dirty or turbid water (there is little chance of seeing a shark in these conditions).
- Avoid swimming at dusk, dawn or at night (many sharks are more active during these times and in low light conditions you may not be able to see an approaching shark).
- Avoid swimming well offshore, near deep channels or along drop-offs to deeper water (sharks are more likely to inhabit the deeper water).
- Avoid entering the ocean near a river mouth, especially after a rainstorm (rain can wash potential food items into the sea that might attract fish and sharks).
- If schooling fish congregate in large numbers, leave the water (sharks can be feeding on the baitfish schools).
- Do not swim near people fishing or spear fishing (as these activities can attract sharks).
- Dolphins in the area do not indicate the absence of sharks (dolphins and sharks sometimes feed together and some sharks feed on dolphins).
- Kayaker should raft up together if a large shark is seen in the area (this makes for a larger object that a shark may not be interested in).
- Do not swim with pets and domestic animals (sharks can be attracted to non-aquatic animals in the water).
- Look carefully before jumping into the water from a boat or wharf (people have jumped on top of sharks).
- Be careful wading through shallow water as Wobbegong sharks are known to hide amongst the kelp in shallow water and it is easy to accidently step on one and get bitten without knowing it was there.
- Wearing shiny jewellery can reflect light that resembles the sheen of fish scales (sharks can be attracted to the reflected light).
- If a shark is sighted in the area leave the water as quickly and calmly as possible.
Water safety and an enjoyable visit to the beach can be enhanced by using common sense as to where one swims and what activities they undertake whilst in the water. Taking personal responsibility for ones own safety is an important step in living with nature and enjoying the natural world. There is a much higher risk of drowning at the beach (297average a year) than from being injured or fatally bitten by a shark. As more knowledge is acquired about the sharks’ normal behaviours and about the circumstances surrounding shark encounters, it may be possible to develop an effective repellent in the future. However, at this point in time there is no 100% effective shark repellent - although there are some electric impulse devices commercially available that may give a level of protection in some circumstances.
If you see a shark
Stay calm! Some previously stated methods of repelling sharks such as blowing bubbles, waving arms about, splashing the water, etc, could actually attract a shark possibly resulting in an altering of the shark's initial response and may unintentionally attract a shark to investigate the disturbance. Leave the area as quickly and as quietly as possible. However, if a close encounter with a shark is imminent try to keep the shark in sight and if it gets too close then any action you take may disrupt its behavour pattern, such as hitting the shark's nose, gouging at its eyes, kicking it, etc which may deter it.
If someone is bitten by a shark
First aid - once the patient is removed from the water:
- Treat the patient immediately on site.
- Stop the bleeding immediately by applying direct pressure above or on the wound, a tourniquet may be used if bleeding cannot be controlled by a pressure bandage.
- Reassure the patient at all times.
- Send for an ambulance and medical personnel (if possible do not move the patient if badly injured).
- Cover the patient lightly with clothing or a towel.
- Give nothing by mouth.