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How to Survive a Shark Attack

Linda Sarhan has been a freelance writer and researcher for 20+ years and has a B.A. in English and creative writing.

3 Reasons for Increased Shark Attacks

  1. More people getting in the water
  2. Increase in shark populations
  3. Changes in the global climate

In 2013, there were 72 confirmed shark attacks worldwide, according to the International Shark Attack File. Although there were only 27 shark attack cases within the United States in 2013, on average, there are around 40 reports each year of shark attacks within United States' waters, most of which are not fatal.

Experts predicted there would be an increase in shark attacks within United States' waters and around the world in 2014. There are several factors involved in this 2013 prediction based on certain observations. From 2014 – 2017, this prediction came to fruition as annual shark attacks did, in fact, increase on average of 55 attacks in the United States each year. However, shark attacks began to decline in 2018 with only 32 reported attacks and 41 reported attacks in 2019.

George Burgess, the director for the Florida Program of Shark Research, says that more and more people are going into the water each year. On average, around 200 million people visit US beaches. According to Burgess, they have seen an increase in the number of sharks coming closer to shore. This is partially due to the rise in shark populations. The other reason is due to changes in the global climate.

USA Shark Attacks 2001 - 2019

StateNumber of AttacksFatalNon-fatal

























North Carolina




New Jersey








South Carolina








Two Types of Shark Attacks

Unprovoked attacks are defined as incidents where a shark attack on humans occur within the shark’s natural habitat and with no human provocation of the shark. This most often occurs as sharks come in closer to shore in search of food and often mistaken swimmers as seals, or other mammals found in their diet.

Provoked attacks occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include, but not limited to, instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, attacks on spearfishers, attacks on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net, and so forth. It also includes when boaters and swimmers harass or threaten sharks in some way.

As of August 1, 2020, there have been a total of 35 shark attacks and shark bites publicly reported worldwide. Twelve of these occurred within the United States resulting in two fatalities.

Most shark attacks are a case of mistaken identity. Sharks have poor eyesight and often mistaken humans who are swimming or surfing as seals, which is their favorite food source. However, in some cases, shark attacks could be prompted by feeling threatened in some way.


Tips to Surviving a Shark Attack

There are over 400 species of sharks on the planet. Even though you should consider all sharks to be dangerous, especially those which are over a meter (over 3 feet) long. Most of the world's shark attacks have typically been from great white sharks, bull sharks, or tiger sharks, which are known to be the most aggressive species of sharks.

It is a terrifying thought for most people to be a victim of a shark attack. It is even more terrifying if you are attacked by a shark and do not know what to do. Knowing what to do in the moment of a shark attack and after may just save your life.

Stay Calm

This is something that is easier said than done. Sharks are quite intimidating and panicking won't help your survival rate. Scrambling for the shore will just entice the shark more. The splashing and sudden moments gives the shark the idea that you are prey. Staying calm will also help you stay alert to its location as you begin to cautiously make it back to shore.

Don't Lose Sight of the Shark

Sharks tend to strike to wound their prey only to come back to finish the kill. Be aware of the location of the shark at all times. If you have been bitten, the blood in the water won't make the shark give up that easily. You won't be able to defend yourself if you don't know where the shark is. If you are diving, try putting your back against the reef. This allows you to monitor the area in front of you without worrying about an attack from behind.

Fight Back

Sharks are not bears. Don't think that playing dead will convince the shark to release you. You will need to fight back if you have any chance of survival. Hitting the shark on the snout has helped many people survive. Another suggestion is to attack its eyes or gills because these are the most painful spots for a shark. If you have a fishing spear, oar, or another hard object, don't hesitate to use it.


Don't forget to breathe. The shark may take you underwater at some point so having a good breath of air will help you from drowning.

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Never Give Up

Continue to fight. Never give in to the shark. The more you fight, the more likely the shark will release you and move on to easier prey.


Hug the Shark

Sounds odd, doesn't it? At the time of the attack, you probably won't have a whole lot of love for this monstrous fish. Sharks will thrash their victim around violently in the water, tearing as much flesh as possible. To help keep as much flesh intact as possible, wrap your arms around the shark as tight as you can. The shark probably isn't going to like that and may just release you.

Get Out of the Water

Your ultimate goal is to get out of the water but doing so frantically won't help at all. It is suggested that you swim vertically to shore. The reason behind this is because sharks can't bite things that are vertical all that well. Their snouts tend to hinder an attack on vertical prey.


This is going to be an important part of your survival. Many surfers carry a surgical tube in the event of a shark attack. They could clamp off the blood flow in the water if need be. Regardless of whether you are in the water or on the shore, you will need a tourniquet because bleeding to death is your primary concern at this point. If you don't have an official tourniquet, use a shirt to tie off the blood flow. There are several arteries in the leg and many times a shark attack results in the severing of the femoral artery which can cause you to bleed out in a matter of minutes.

All of these tips will help increase your chances of survival. However, the best way to survive a shark attack is to take preventive measures so that it minimizes your risk of an attack all together.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Linda Sarhan


Greg on March 07, 2020:

While a lot of the information in this article is true it is written in a way to be scary. If I were the author I would not try to scare my people/readers. If you want some good information about how to avoid shark attacks altogether a really good book that I’ve been reading that was put out in 2020 is what you should know about sharks written by Ocean Ramsey It can be purchased off of Amazon and it’s about shark behavior and the things that we as humans can do to avoid a bad interaction with sharks.

I have no affiliation with the author other than being a fan of the information she is putting out there. Give it a read!

Libby on July 17, 2019:

Sharks may be scary when you read about them, or actually witness an attack, but sharks aren't just in the water to kill and eat people. They probably don't even mean to hurt us, but we are in their territory so they could think we are invading them. Put it this way, a shark comes into your bedroom. Most of us would either jump out of the window or scream. I'm sure 10% of us would attack the shark, just like it would attack us. :)

Koko on December 23, 2015:

My advice: DON'T GO IN THE WATER. Sharks are there and want to eat you. The water is their home. Humans homes are on the beach. Stay on the beach. Splash some water on you when the waves go in. But you stay put. Class Dismissed:)

Linda Sarhan (author) from Lexington KY USA on September 16, 2014:

Very good question.

Their skin is made up of dermal denticles. The point of the dermal denticles is to prevent drag and make the shark faster by producing less drag in the water. If touched from head to tail they feel smooth but if from tail to head it feels like sandpaper. Sand paper probably won't kill you. Experts say that it may cause abrasions on the skin, but in the event of a shark attack, chance are you are already bleeding and the point is to lessen the thrashing and hopefully shock the shark enough to swim away.

Lala on September 15, 2014:

To the 'hug the shark' bit, wouldn't that be dangerous considering that sharkskin is made up from hundreds of tiny teeth, and that brushing against it the wrong way could result in fatalities?

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