Despite the public fear of sharks, shark attacks are extremely rare. There were 84 confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attacks worldwide on humans in 2016, according to the International Shark Attack File.
Diving with sharks continues to be popular and a highly sought-after activity at premier dive destinations around the globe. Whilst the risk of injury during shark dives is incredibly small, there are some precautions divers, and those new to swimming with sharks, can take for enjoyable and safe shark dives.
1. Diver Safety?
Many sharks are hesitant about approaching divers and prefer not to be seen when investigating new objects. Diving in a group is a great way to ensure there are always pair of eyes looking for sharks and monitoring their behaviour, whilst also keeping an eye on other divers. This is important when diving unguided in areas known for sharks.
2. Time of day
Avoid diving with sharks at dawn and dusk, as that is when many shark species hunt. By only diving in good light conditions during the day, divers can avoid sharks natural hunting times and ensure they are clearly seen; meaning less chance of a diver surprising a shark or being mistaken as a food object.
3. Dive and photography kit
It is well-known by divers that yellow, or ‘yum yum yellow’, is the colour to avoid on dive kit, as it can attract predators. Shiny cameras and jewellery, which can be mistaken for fish by a shark, should also be avoided. Divers can consider keeping cameras close to their body and be aware that the noise and light of flashes can attract sharks to investigate camera equipment closely.
4. Surrounding environment
Avoid diving in areas where sharks are actively hunting, such as at marine mammal colonies during the breeding season, and in areas where fishing has recently been undertaken. Both will minimise the chance of encountering a hunting shark. Divers should also consider where sharks are usually found at a dive site, plus the topography, currents, and depth beforehand to ensure an enjoyable and safe shark dive.
5. Water visibility
Always dive with sharks in clear water. Diving in low visibility increases the chance of a shark not being able to identify a diver clearly and so potentially mistaking it for a food source.
6. Spearfishing catch
Divers going spear fishing should consider keeping their catch bag separate from themselves to avoid sharks being attracted by the fish blood and potentially biting a diver accidentally.
7. Shark behaviour
Before diving with sharks, get to know their behaviours. They are intelligent animals that use body language to signal when they feel threatened by a diver’s presence; including mouth gaping, an arched back, exaggerated body movements, and dipping their pectoral fins down.
8. Safety procedures
Divers can plan what to do if they see a shark during a dive and feel unexpectedly uncomfortable. Examples can include planning to descend to the reef floor until the shark has passed (if safe to do so) or exiting the water slowly whilst watching the shark.
9. Breathing and depth
Seeing a shark for the first time whilst diving is very exciting and often the highlight of a dive. It is easy to lose track of depth and air whilst watching the shark, alerting buddies, and trying to use cameras all at the same time. Divers should remember to breathe steadily, not fin excessively, and check dive gauges often.
Whilst extra safety considerations are helpful for shark dives, the risk of an accident is still very low. There is a reason people return each year to shark diving hotspots such as Guadalupe and the Bahamas. It is truly an incredible experience. Stay calm, breathe, and enjoy!