A common question among a lot of people is why don’t sharks attack divers? As a PADI Instructor, one of the first things people tend to ask me is – “aren’t you scared of sharks?” In fact, myself and nearly all divers actually love to see sharks in the water! They are such magnificent creatures, it is a great experience to be in the water with them! The bad press that sharks have gotten for years means many people fear them. However, everyday people dive with sharks without incident.
Why don’t sharks attack scuba divers?
To put it most simply – we are not their food. They do not seek us out, we are not a natural prey of sharks, and they do not like the taste of humans! It is not right to say that sharks do not attack divers, however such incidents are extremely rare. Most attacks by sharks are a case of mistaken identity. From below, the legs of a kicking surfer may appear to be a distressed seal for example. If you ever dive with sharks, you will find they are mostly very disinterested in humans, and often times quite shy.
So why do people use a cage to dive with sharks?
Cage diving with sharks is an activity offered around the world. Many tout this experience as an adrenaline activity. Cages are lowered from a boat a couple of feet underwater. The person in the cage tends to breathe from a surface supplied air source. that means, a hose, like a long snorkel really, from the surface. This means that just about anyone can see the sharks, as no experience is needed.
Shark cage diving is a money-making business. The owners of these operations charge a lot for the experience. That means, they need to guarantee a shark sighting! The only way to do that, is to bait or chum the water. The staff will pour buckets of fish in the water, or fish guts and entrails. The sharks will smell this from miles away and come to investigate. Not only does this alter their natural behavior, but it gives the tour operators a near 100% success rate of their clients seeing the sharks. You really need a cage in this case, as you are sending the sharks (unnaturally) into a feeding frenzy.
Can you dive with sharks without a cage?
Yes! Divers around the world swim with sharks everyday without a cage! There are over 1000 species of shark in the world. Of these, there are only a handful which have ever attacked humans. That leaves an awful lot of sharks that pose absolutely no threat to divers whatsoever. Often, you can see small reef sharks or nurse sharks in topical countries. They behave like large fish, completely uninterested in humans.
It is also possible to dive with the species of sharks that people might consider “dangerous”. Some of the best dive sites in the world are famous for shark sightings. Plenty of people head to the Galapagos Islands where Tiger Sharks can be spotted. In Egypt, divers are lucky to spot the Oceanic White tip. Some places are notorious for baiting or chumming the water to attract sharks. In Fiji and Mexico, divers will take barrels of dead fish to bring Bull Sharks close. This practice is not really good for the behavior of the sharks. It causes them to rely on us for food. There are still places where you can dive with Bull Sharks in their natural, uninterrupted habitat, such as Bat Islands in Costa Rica.
How likely is a diver to be attacked by a shark?
According to Florida Museum, in 2019 there were 140 shark interactions recorded. Of these, only 3% involved scuba divers. That is a very low percentage of an already low number. Sharks are extremely intelligent, and can tell fairly easily that we are not their food. Why don’t sharks attack Scuba Divers? Because they do not find us appetising! As mentioned above, attacks usually happen as a result of mistaken identity. For instance, surfers are always on the surface. They also tend to stay where waves break, so visibility is impaired. To a shark, from below, they can be mistaken for a seal or other animal. Divers spend most of their time under water, where the shark can clearly see that they pose no threat and are not their food source.
Can I dive with sharks if I am on my period?
Yes! This is a very common question. it is usually fueled by the often quoted “fact” that sharks can smell a drop of blood in an Olympic swimming pool. It’s true that sharks have incredible noses, and can smell blood for miles. However, it is thought that their sense of smell is so good they can actually differentiate fish from other smells. Many theorise it is actually the stomach acid of fish that attracts sharks, not blood. Therefore, as women, our period blood is of no interest to sharks.
It is also worth pointing out that when women menstruate, it is a very small amount of blood that is released. It may feel to some like an awful lot, but it is not. Plus, it is not just blood, it is a mixture of all kinds of cells, body fluids and mucus. So in reality, a shark may smell your period, but they are not interested!
How can I avoid a shark attack whilst diving?
Whilst shark attacks are rare, there are some things you can do to minimise the risk. If you know you are going to be around more aggressive sharks, there is no harm in taking extra precautions. A lot of these tips can also be applied to general water activities too.
Some steps to prevent a potential shark attack whilst scuba diving include:
- Not spending unnecessary time floating on the surface
- Giving shark space if one is encountered, never corner them
- Not agitating the shark in anyway (using camera flashes, getting too close etc)
- Avoid the water at dawn or dusk, as this is when sharks actively feed
- Back away if the shark begins to show skittish behavior
- Be aware of all directions and know if there is a shark behind you
- Staying close to a group / buddy
- You can actually buy shark repellent bracelets – check this one out! Surfers tend to use them, although I don’t know how effective they are.
All these points can help, but the reality is, your chance of being attacked by a shark whilst Scuba Diving is very slim. You are more likely to get hurt putting your equipment on, or slipping on entry or exit of the water!