ST. GEORGE — Vacationing at the ocean is destination No. 1 for many, but recent media coverage of shark attacks may leave some wary of going into the waters. Shark attacks, relatively speaking, are rare and most are not fatal. But a little preparedness and awareness may make the difference in whether you do encounter a shark, and how you will respond if you do.
A much publicized recent attack occurred July 18 when three-time world champion surfer Mick Fanning, 34, punched the suspected great white shark after it attempted to pull him underwater by his foot rope during South Africa’s J-Bay Open, broadcast on national television.
The American Red Cross, which celebrated 100 years of aquatic safety in 2014, recommended in a press release out of Salt Lake City that you have your shark encounter plan in place.
Before you go into the water
Consult with lifeguards and other regional authorities to find out whether sharks have been present in the areas you want to swim.
Avoid wearing shiny objects, such as a bright jewelry or watches, using colorful surfboards, and wearing bright colored swimwear as they may resemble fish scales and attract further attention.
Sharks smell blood. Women who are menstruating or anyone who has cut themselves or has an open wound may attract sharks; however, NatGeoTV.com in its “Shark Attack Facts” states that 93 percent of shark attacks from 1580 to 2010 worldwide were on males.
Pay attention to the behavior of other aquatic animals. If turtles, fish, dolphins, sea lions are acting erratic, they may know something you don’t. Don’t swim with dolphins, seals and sea lions.
Don’t swim at dusk or in the dark or after heavy rains. Avoid murky waters, channels between sandbars and harbor entrances or steep drop-offs, and rocky underwater cliffs.
Keep dogs out of the water. The way they move about is attractive to sharks.
Don’t swim around fishing boats and fishermen.
Don’t take your eyes off the shark
Sharks use several attack methods. Sometimes they swim right up and have at it, sometimes they circle before lunging and sometimes they come up from behind in a surprise attack.
Know where the shark is at all times as you formulate your escape plan.
Stay calm and avoid sudden movements
When you first spot a shark, more often than not it will swim away without bothering you.
You cannot outswim a shark, so trying to get away quickly to safety will only catch the shark’s attention.
Don’t play dead.
Unless you are close to shore, keep calm as you continuously appraise the situation and figure out how to get to safety.
How to defend yourself
If you cannot get out of the water right away, try to reduce the shark’s possible angles of attack.
If you are in shallow water, keep your feet firmly planted on the bottom. If possible, slowly back up against a reef, piling or rock outcropping so the shark cannot circle behind you. This way, you only have to defend from the front.
If you’re not where you can back up to something, get back-to-back with someone you are swimming with.
If the attack comes, use your fist, elbows, knees or feet and aim for the shark’s eyes, gills or snout using hard, sharp jabs.
You can also claw at the eyes and gills persistently until, hopefully, the shark retreats.
During an attack, sharks tend to thrash around to tear off chunks of their prey, so if the person essentially latches onto the shark, they sharply reduce the risk of losing large quantities of skin or limbs altogether. Also, doing this prevents the bitten areas from being stuck even more in the shark’s mouth, as shark teeth are pointed inward to lock in their prey. If attacked in groups, form a circle of defense.
Get out of the water
Even if the shark swims away, you’re not truly safe until you are out of the water. Sharks often leave temporarily and then come back to resume the attack. Swim smoothly and avoid thrashing, especially if you have been bitten as it will disperse more blood and attract attention. A smooth reverse breast stroke requires less splashing and draws less attention.
If you have been bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Massive blood loss is often fatal. Take immediate steps to stop the bleeding, and attempt to make the blood clot while help is summoned. Try to stay calm so your heart does not pump the blood faster.
- For more information on water safety, visit the Red Cross website
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