Is there a way to avoid a shark attack when spearfishing or freediving? Alchemy spearo & freediving instructor Garrett Moss, a very experienced diver in the shark infested waters of Hawaii, explains in glorious detail what to do in case you are confronted by a shark when spearfishing or freediving. Should one fear the shark? Should one swim away? When should one get out of the water? What can one do when met by a group of sharks? Read on.

"If you come across a shark, any species of shark, you're either going to be viewed as a predator to that shark or you're gonna be viewed as prey, so you make your choice on what you want that shark to view you as. If the shark starts swimming towards you and you know that you or anyone else around you can't get out of the water, you stand your ground. You let that shark know that you're confident, you don't show any fear. Sometimes you might want to even swim towards the shark.

Every shark has its own personality and every species of shark behaves maybe a little bit more aggressive or less aggressive than others. When you come across the shark just try to figure out: 

  • what species it is
  • if it's aggressive
  • how threatening the shark may be to you
  • how big the shark is
  • how small the shark is
  • the posture of its pectoral fins
  • the way that it's moving around the water

Is it curious, is it hungry, is it being aggressive, is it being passive? These are things that you're going to be wanting to look at if you come in contact and you are in the vicinity of a shark.

Just because a shark might come into the area where you're in the water, it doesn't mean that you have to get out of the water right away. Whether you're snorkelling, freediving on a competitive freedive line or you're hunting, maybe with some chum in the water, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to exit the water right away.

If there are sharks in the vicinity, they are not going to come up and bite you right away. Most of the time most sharks are gonna study you and make sure that you're not a threat. If you want to pose a little bit of a threat to the shark, you show it confidence and you stand your ground. Sharks are opportunity feeders and they're not going to want to be threatened. You stand your ground and that shark is gonna respect you, just like you respect the shark. You're a predator in the water with the shark, you're not prey to the shark.

It's going to be curious not viewing you as prey, but it's going to be curious viewing you as a fellow predator and maybe thinking that it can snag a meal, especially if you're a spearfisherman and you have some fish in the water or chum. They have a very heightened sense of smell, so they're going to be smelling the scene out just like a dog would, to see if there's anything that they can scavenge off you.

On the contrary, if you swim away from the shark, maybe to shore, in the direction of shore or the direction of a flow or of the boat that you're diving off, and you swim across the surface of the water creating bubbles, you're going to get it curious. They can think of you as prey and they could possibly take a bite out of you at that point, if it gets close enough. 

If you're standing your ground and you're showing the shark confidence and it's still approaching you, and you might see that the shark is kind of aggressive, what I would recommend doing - especially if you have a speargun - is using that as a barrier in between you and the shark. The shark’s most sensitive areas are going to be:

  • its nose, where it has tons and tons of receptors
  • its gills

You can extend the gun out, creating a barrier in between you and the shark, and if the shark’s going to swim close enough to the tip of the spear, it'll probably poke itself in the nose - if you have a gun pointing in the right direction - and it'll turn its direction. That will deter the shark away from you, making it think twice about coming back, because it didn't like the pain of what it felt.

If you poke the shark once and it comes back again, and you poke it a couple more times, then you might want to consider getting out of the water, especially if there's more than one sharks around.

Also, if there are a few sharks hunting in a pack, you might want to consider getting out of the water, because one of the sharks might get a little too aggressive. If one gets aggressive then the others will feed off of that initial shark’s aggressive energy and it'll be a domino effect. You definitely don't want to be caught in a situation like that, it could be very dangerous at that point, so once it gets to a certain point, you might want to think about getting out of the water. 

When you're in this kind of a situation your senses are gonna be heightened, your consciousness and your awareness is going to be heightened to a point to where you've never felt before, especially if it's going to be a very intense situation. You're going to be able to think more clearly than you ever have.Your judgment is going to be your best judgment because you're gonna be in fear for your life at that point.

As spearos or freedivers we have to be extremely focused on holding our breath, being in touch with ourself and being in touch with what the task is at hand.Sometimes that takes away our senses from our surrounding areas and when this happens you might have a shark that'll sneak up on you.You’ve got to remember, you're in their environment, they can maneuver within and out of the scene like you don't even see them, you might not even notice that they're there, but they can see you and they can swim up to you a lot faster than you think. So you always want to be aware what your surroundings are, always keeping an eye around, just to make sure a shark doesn't sneak up on you.

Sometimes, if you're kicking against the current to find a certain spot where you want to drop on, it's always a good idea to dip your head down and look behind you as you're swimming scouring the area,  getting a 360 view of what's going around at that point, making sure that there's no sharks in the area.

If you have caught a fish, it might be a good idea to let the fish swim away and have the shark’s attention focus on that fish instead of you, especially if they're getting quite aggressive and then you can focus on getting yourself out of the water and out of harm's way.

On the island of Maui, Hawaii, where I hunt, we have a lot of tiger sharks. Those sharks are quite large, they range anywhere from usually around 8 to about 15 feet, so all the way up to about three meters long. These are big sharks and and they're the apex predators. When they show up in the ocean everything around notes, everything stops, time stops, they are majestic creatures and they for the most part will approach slow, especially if you have chum falling".

Want to find out more? Watch the following video.

Shot By Aaron Lynton & Garrett Moss
Edited By Roni Essex
Music: Trippin' by Stevie Ross

Want to see more from Garrett?

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