Because sharks are always in the water, there is no sure-fire way to reduce your chances of being bitten unless you stay out of the ocean altogether, say Kim Holland and Carl Meyer, shark team researchers at the Hawai‘i Institute for Marine Biology of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
But if you do go in, you can improve your odds of surviving a shark encounter, they say, even if badly bitten, by staying close to at least one other person in the water.
“Don’t swim or surf alone,” Holland said.
They also advise choosing beaches with lifeguards and staying closer to shore, where rescue can happen more quickly and effectively.
There’s also some evidence that sharks are less likely to approach two or more humans than a solo oceangoer, said Russell Sparks, aquatic biologist for the state Division of Aquatic Resources on Maui.
“Sharks are really adverse to any potential threat to them,” Sparks said. “A review of the statistics show there are very rarely attacks with two or more people in the water next to each other.”
Local scientists and the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File also advise:
>> Stay out of the water when it’s dirty or murky, or there’s a stream, harbor or dump nearby; sharks associate outflows with dead animals, garbage and other scavengeable food sources, Sparks said.
>> Avoid waters where people are fishing or cleaning fish.
>> With regard to what time of day is most dangerous, the experts differ. Whether you should avoid the ocean at dawn or after dark, “when sharks are more active,” according to the Florida file, or stay out from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., when there are the most people in the water and when most Hawaii attacks occur, according to Meyer, it’s up to you.
>> Best advice? Whether it’s avoiding sharks or the exponentially greater likelihood of drowning, stay alert, informed and in reach of help; know your limits; and, as Hawaii lifeguards say, “when in doubt, don’t go out.”
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