If sharks are common where you’re diving, you’ll probably hear someone say that you shouldn’t wear yellow as part of your gear or exposure suit. Standard lore goes that sharks are more attracted to the color yellow than to any other color. In some places, this has even given rise to an alliterative expression: Yum Yum Yellow.
The truth about Yum Yum Yellow
But is there truth to this? Do sharks prefer yellow? After all, for many years, we’ve believed that if we wave a bright red flag at a bull it will attack. In reality, bulls are colorblind. So that’s one animal color myth that doesn’t hold true. What about sharks and yellow?
The Discovery Channel’s hit TV show Mythbusters even took this question into consideration for one of their Shark Week specials. First, they put bait into the same type of bags in a variety of colors, including yellow. Then they dragged them behind a boat in shark-infested waters to see which ones the sharks went for most often. Their conclusion was that while sharks tended to go for bait first and foremost — regardless of which bag it was in — there were slightly more attacks on the yellow bag.
Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) has also addressed this question and concluded that there is actually some truth to it. Sharks don’t necessarily prefer yellow in particular, but a number of shark species are attracted to any high-contrast color, such as yellow, orange, or red. These colors are easier for the shark to see, especially in murky water or up against a bright surface.
The fact that we’ve identified yellow as the most shark-attracting color has to do with its contrast quality. It’s often chosen for ocean-rescue equipment, such as emergency-flotation devices and life rafts, for the very same reason; high contrast means it’s easy to spot.
So while there’s no proof that sharks prefer any given color, it is true that they prefer high-contrast colors. So when diving in areas sharks are known be, consider wearing black, blue, or dark gray exposure suits and gear, and avoid shiny, metallic elements that might attract both sharks and other marine predators — there’s a reason fishing lures are made of shiny metal. Save the high-contrast color for signaling devices, such as a yellow or orange DSMB.