You're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat...

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat…

This past weekend the news media and social media were abuzz with the attacks of 2 young swimmers off the coast of Oak Island, NC.  According to reports, the attacks took place within 45 minutes of each other both resulting in the amputation of an arm for each victim.  Shark attacks are nothing new. (Remember Bethany Hamilton?  She’s the girl who lost her arm in 2003 at the age of 13 in a shark attack off the coast of Hawaii and went on to become a professional surfer.  Her story of overcoming adversity became a movie in 2011, Soul Surfer).  But, shark attacks off the coast of North Carolina are much less common than say shark attacks off the coast of Florida or California, where warm waters invite swimmers and sharks.  What most people want to do in response to a shark attack is panic.  Panic is unnecessary fear — respect for nature and oceanic education are essential.

The odds of you getting attacked and killed by a shark are 1 in 3,748,067.  In a lifetime you are more likely to die from fireworks (1 in 340,733), lightning (1 in 79,746), drowning (1 in 1,134), a car accident (1 in 84), stroke (1 in 24) or heart disease (1 in 5).  There are on average 70 to 100 shark attacks WORLD WIDE each year, with only 5 to 15 resulting in death.  That’s probably not very comforting for the families of victims to hear.  However, the truth of the matter remains that we do, and allow our children to do, far more dangerous activities than swim in the ocean that we deem as “good, safe fun”.

Attack or no attack, make no mistake — sharks are out there.  They live in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and they are always out there.  In the clear waters of Florida, small airplane pilots have reported seeing sharks in the water, not 30 yards away from the nearest swimmer.  Yet, more often than not, you’ll never know they were out there.

Experts agree on a few key tips to keeping you and your family safe while enjoying the beautiful and refreshing Atlantic Ocean:


Always swim in a group.  Sharks most often attack lone individuals.

Don’t go too far away from the shore.  This isolates you from others, see the first tip, and puts you farther away from assistance.

Avoid the water at night, dawn or dusk.  These are common active times for sharks as they are better able to see their prey during these times.

Don’t enter the water if you are bleeding or have an open wound.  Sharks can smell one drop of blood in a million drops of water.  They have an uncanny ability to trace blood back to its source.

Don’t wear shiny jewelry while swimming.  The light reflects off of it and mimics the appearance of fish scales to a shark.

Don’t go into waters containing sewage.  Sewage attracts bait fish, and bait fish attract sharks.

Avoid waters being fished or that are active with bait fish.  If you see people surf fishing, it’s probably best to stay out of the water.  Bait fish can attract sharks.  You can also look out past the waves to see if the ocean is active with seabirds diving in and out of the water.  If there are, the waters are heavy with bait fish and may attract sharks.

Don’t enter the waters if sharks are seen.  If a shark has been sighted, stay out of the water.

Avoid highly contrasted clothing or swimsuits.  Sharks see sharp contrasts (black and white, red and white) much more easily than multiple colors blending together.  This makes you much more visible to a shark in murky waters

Avoid murky waters, a steep drop off from a sand bar and harbor entrances.  These are areas commonly frequented by sharks.

Don’t splash a lot.  Avoid excessive splashing and allowing animals to erratically run through the surf.  Erratic movement attract sharks.

Don’t be fooled into relaxation by the presence of porpoises.  Porpoises also feed on bait fish that attract sharks.  And some larger sharks will prey on dolphins.

Don’t attempt to touch a shark.  This is pretty self-explanatory.  DON’T TOUCH!

Try to swim at life guard protected beaches.

If you are attacked by a shark, studies have shown that a swift kick or punch to the nose or eye often loosens the shark’s grip.  The rule is — do whatever is necessary!


That’s a lot of don’ts.   It’s almost like saying — you can go stand in the ocean in a camouflage swim suit and not move.  That’s highly unlikely behavior for most children and teenagers.  So, here are some do’s to consider: Do use caution and common sense.  Do respect the ocean and its inhabitants.  Do go to the beach this summer and enjoy yourself.  Do have a blast and make some memories!

As a side note, if you’re a shark or history enthusiast, you might find this article from the Smithsonian Magazine particularly interesting: The Worst Shark Attack in History.
More information regarding shark safety is available at the website for the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Blog written by: Cara Singleton