What To Do If You See A Shark While Snorkeling Or Scuba Diving

If an ocean excursion is high on your bucket list, especially in a gorgeous tropical destination like the Caribbean or Hawaii, you might be wondering about sharks — and you're not alone. Roughly half of Americans admit to having a fear of these kings of the sea and a third won't venture into the water as a result, reports a survey by IPSOS, a global research institute. But there's some good news to report: sharks did not evolve to be an inherent threat to humans. In fact, they are often misunderstood. Instead of letting your fear stop you from exploring the sea, just remember a few safety tips instead.


For starters, if you do see one, do your best to remain calm and signal to others that a shark is nearby. If possible, move slowly and get out of the water for the time being. If you can't make a graceful exit, remember that the shark is not going to go out of its way to harm you. While they are fierce apex predators, humans are not part of their usual diet, as they prefer to dine on small fish instead. Like any other wild animal, stay respectful and avoid any behaviors that they could interpret as threatening like chasing, harassing, or touching. Face them with confidence and allow them to take you in for a moment. Once their curiosity is satisfied, they should be on their way.

How to deter a shark who gets too close

Unlike what you might see in the movies, a shark is unlikely to attack a human unless you encroach on their space in some way or they are confused, perhaps mistaking a surfer for a seal or sea lion. Even so, an attack is incredibly rare. In 2023, there were 84 shark attacks around the world, says SURFER Magazine, making it statistically more likely for you to get injured or killed by a snake or a falling coconut back on the shore. That said, if a shark does become a little too interested in you while diving or snorkeling on vacation, there are a few ways to deter it.


First, back away so there is at least six feet of space between you, putting your back against something solid. If a shark becomes aggressive or tries to attack, stay vertical and hit them on the nose repeatedly. If that doesn't do the trick, use your gear or your hands to claw at their eyes and gills on the side of the face, two sensitive areas. Keep facing the shark and make sudden movements to throw them off. Whatever you do, don't be passive, as playing dead isn't going to work in this situation. When it retreats, swim to safety before it returns, report the sighting to a lifeguard, and get medical attention if necessary.

More tips for staying safe in shark waters

Though you'll be in their territory, there are a few things you can do to signal your respect and minimize any unwanted encounters with sharks. For example, you can wear monochrome attire and leave your shiny jewelry back at the hotel room, as sharks are attracted to contrast. You can also opt to explore the water around midday when sharks are less likely to be feeding near the shore, typically dawn, dusk, and after dark. If you have any open wounds, reschedule for another day, as sharks are well known for their keen sense of smell.


Once you're in the water, avoid the temptation to go off on your own, staying close to your group or guide. You'll also want to steer clear of areas with decreased visibility, like the entrance of harbor or estuaries, where the river flows into the sea. Try to swim as gracefully as possible with minimal splashing, pay attention to how other animals are acting around you, and stay away from fishing boats where bait is used to draw in fish and, as a consequence, other animals. Though it may feel like a lot to remember, the views beneath the sea are well worth the effort on your next exotic getaway.