Australia is known for its array of wild and deadly animals, and included on that list are sharks. Coming into the summer months, we often hear of shark attacks off our coasts. but there are a few reasons you don’t need to fear sharks like they’re from a scene in Jaws.
Shark Attacks in Australia
On the local news, we’re regularly alerted to shark attacks or sightings in our waters. This year there have been multiple cases of swimmers being attacked or bitten by sharks.
The Australian Shark Attack File, reports that 2020 has seen 22 cases of shark attacks so far. Seven of these were fatal and 19 of the cases were unprovoked. This number of attacks is quite high, but don’t freak out just yet, because there are a number of factors that explain this.
According to The Guardian, this number of shark attacks is still in line with the annual average over the past decade. Apparently, the La Nina system that is impacting Australia could also be a factor as it influences the migrations of prey, which great white sharks tend to follow. This results in a higher number of sharks in our waters that are coming closer to shore.
All this being said, it’s still extremely unlikely to be attacked by a shark when swimming. The Nature Conservancy in Australia says the odds of being killed by a shark in Australia are 1 in 8 million – which is the same likelihood of getting killed by a kangaroo. The difference is that humans’ preconceived fear of sharks and their presentation in modern media gives them a bad wrap.
Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Sharks
The scientific name for a fear of sharks is galeophobia. But while sharks may look scary and are excellent predators, many of them are also harmless to humans. Many who suffer from this fear have largely been influenced by the presentation of sharks in media and the movies. Films like Jaws and Deep Blue Sea sensationalise the predatory nature of sharks – when in reality they don’t have some deep-set instinct to go after humans. If you run into one it’s probably just coming to check out who its new neighbour is.
The fear of sharks can also be linked to a more primal fear in humans, such as a loss of control and fear of dying a painful death, according to National Geographic. The article also states that you have a one in 3,748,067 chance of being killed by a shark. You have more chance of being struck by lightning or getting cancer than dying in a shark’s jaws.
How To Avoid Being Attacked By A Shark
Most sharks also won’t attack humans unless provoked, so basically, just leave them alone. But there are still a few things you can do to stay safe while swimming and minimise your chances of a shark run-in.
The Taronga Conservation Society recommends following these precautions:
- 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 potential attack and your companion can assist you if you get into trouble or are bitten by a shark)
- 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)
- Kayakers 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 when wading through shallow water as Wobbegong sharks are known to hide among the kelp in shallow water, and it is easy to accidentally 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
Experts also say that if you do find yourself in a shark attack, the best response is to fight back – go for the eyes, nose and gills but remain calm while doing so.
Why We Should Be Friends With Sharks
When you go swimming out in the ocean you’re automatically entering a shark’s backyard. They live there and you, as a swimmer, are just going for a visit, so you should respect that you are in their territory. Most of the time, they’re just obeying their survival instincts and hunting for food. So, it’s at this point we should take little responsibility and forgive them if they mistake us for a snack while on their turf. As listed above, there are plenty of things we can do to minimise risk.
While you are right to be wary around sharks, killing them or hating on them for attacking isn’t the answer. In fact, many victims of shark attacks are now very vocal about shark conservation.
Australian SAS diver and shark survivor, Paul De Gelder, has become a huge supporter for shark welfare, despite having lost an arm and leg to a shark attack.
And rightly so. Sharks are very vulnerable due to the high number that are killed for shark finning. It’s estimated that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins each year, which is popular in dishes such as shark fin soup. This number is not sustainable for shark populations or the larger ocean environment – which relies on sharks to maintain the ecosystem. Sharks really should be friends, not food.
So remember these tips when you’re hitting the beaches this summer. People and sharks can work together to enjoy the ocean, we just need to uphold our end of the deal.