You’ve probably seen the video of a diver being approached (and according to some) attacked by a shark on YouTube. The incident happened in the Cayman Islands, and the diver, Jason Dimitri, surfaced unharmed. He was culling for lionfish, an invasive species, when it happened. Most divers enjoy shark encounters, and rightfully so. Most sharks you’ll meet will be non-aggressive. They will keep their distance, and some might be curious enough to come closer. A few might show some level of aggression, however, and how we respond critically affects the encounter’s outcome. Sharks are wild animals, and just like the wrong behavior with the wrong dog might result in a bite, so too our behavior matters when we encounter a shark. A number of experts, including those from The Shark Trust, offer the following suggestions for safe behavior around sharks.
1. Remain calm
It’s quite common to be nervous, but don’t let it affect your behavior around sharks to the point where you panic and start moving erratically. Sudden, erratic movements may provoke a shark, just as they might with a dog.
2. Swim purposefully towards the surface, the reef, or the bottom
If sharks are common in the area, or you spot them from the surface, swim quickly and purposefully to the bottom or the reef. Most sharks hunt for prey either in the water column or at the surface, so don’t linger unnecessarily there. The same rule applies to your ascent: swim to the surface quickly and leave the water as soon as you reach the surface. Of course, always respect your maximum safe-ascent rate and don’t forget your safety stop.
Avoid spearfishing around sharks, as the blood can attract or provoke them. If you’re spearfishing and sharks arrive in the area, consider dumping what you’ve caught and ending the dive.
4. Avoid bling
Brightly colored gear or flashy metal gear can also attract sharks, so avoid wearing these items when diving in sharky waters. Matte or dark metal is fine, as is blue or black gear and wetsuits.
5. Never pursue a shark
This might seem painfully obvious, but many divers actually do this. Often, they want that perfect photograph of a shark, and as the shark moves away, they swim after it. However, the shark may attack in an act of self-defense. Respect the shark’s space and let it move away. Diving in areas where there are sharks is typically not in itself a risky activity, as long as you heed local requirements and advice, and use good judgment.
Jason Dimitri is fully aware of this, as he states in the comments of his now very popular YouTube video: “I want to make it clear that I am hunting lionfish to help protect the reef from the destruction that they cause. The shark was acting in his natural environment. I have no ill will toward him and will get back in the water and continue to protect the reef for future generations. I would strongly encourage anyone out there to donate to reef.org or other organizations to help protect our reefs, sharks and the beautiful creatures in them.”