Minimising the Risk of Shark Encounters
Even though shark attacks 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. However small the risk is it does not mean that people should disregard the likelihood of an encounter and should consider simple precautions such as swimming at Life Saver patrolled beaches or protected swimming areas. 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 and being aware of what may provoke a shark.
The following safety points highlight some considerations that may help minimise the risk:
- Swim at beaches patrolled by Surf Live 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) and be aware that Wobbegong sharks are known to hide amongst the kelp in shallow water. Be careful wading through shallow water as you could 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.
There is a much higher risk of drowning at the beach (121 average 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. There are also encouraging research results from the use of magnets to repel some types of sharks.
If you see a shark
Stay calm! Some previously stated methods of repelling sharks such as blowing bubbles, waving arms about, etc could actually attract a shark resulting in an altering of the shark's initial response and one may unintentionally attract a shark to investigate you. 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.