Swimming with sharks. It’s some person’s biggest fear and some person’s biggest dream. Depending on your background and former knowledge of these creatures, it will affect your perspective. Growing up freediving and spearfishing in the Bahamas, seeing sharks was a regular occurrence. I was taught at a very young age not to fear sharks, but instead to respect them, be aware of what they’re capable of doing and always know where they are in the water. As I got older and learned more about these amazing creatures through personal experiences in freediving, scuba diving, and spearfishing, along with factual educational content in the media, I’ve conjured even greater respect for them. So here are 5 tips to keep in mind when freediving with sharks.

Don’t Act Like Shark Food

Sharks hunt dead or dying sea animals including fish, turtles, whales, and even other sharks! Animals that may be injured show this in their body movements, splashing and flailing are common signs to an animal in distress. The sound of splashing the surface of the water along with the flashing of whatever is being used to splash the water whether it’s a hand or freediving fins, can be shark attractant. The stealthier you can be in the water when freediving with sharks, the safer and more natural interactions you will have with them in a non-threatening way.

Don’t Swim With Shark Food

This is catered more towards those freedivers who do spearfishing. Sharks are attracted to the smell of dead fish in the water from the scent the blood emits. In certain parts of the world spearfisherman strap their dead fish around their waist, this is not a practice that can be used everywhere safely and in general, is not recommended. If you shoot a fish while spearfishing, whether you are aware of a shark in the vicinity or not, the best practice is to get the fish out of the water as soon as possible. If you are in a situation where you’re surrounded by sharks at the surface with a freshly speared fish, the best thing you can do is hold the fish out of the water above you or if that’s not possible, keep the fish as close to you, concealed as possible while your dive buddy helps escort you back to the boat. In most cases, if sharks realize that you can defend your catch and you keep it out of their field of view, this may help in a clean getaway. Every interaction with a shark is different so a standard rule of what to do in this situation does not exist, but it’s good to know your options so that you can adapt them to your specific encounter.

Always Know Where The Shark(s) Is

Sharks are ambush predators and rely on stealth to hunt and prey on their food. Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks are known to actively approach persons from behind since this is their accustomed approach to gain an advantage over their subjects. If you’re in a situation where there are multiple sharks in the water, try to get a general idea of how many sharks there are in total and where they are in the water. Unless you are freediving in a place that is a Shark Diving hotspot, it would be rare to encounter more than 3-8 sharks surrounding you at the same time with no incentive. Keeping track of where these sharks are in the water at all times is one of the best things you can do in order to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable freedive.

Don’t Try To Outswim A Shark

I think this tip can be easily assumed, however, you would be surprised how many people, with minimum to no shark experience, try to “run away” from a shark approaching them. These animals are born to swim and encountering them in the water is where they have every advantage as an apex predator. One of the worst things you can do when being approached by a shark is back peddling in the water while splashing, in hopes to swim away or deter the shark. This action has the opposite effect and will attract the shark to you more! The shark would be interested in the splashing of the water along with the flailing of your body and this may entice it to approach closer, bump or even take an investigatory bite. There are a few things you can do if a shark was to approach you while freediving. One of them is staying calm and keeping your hands and arm close to you in a position where you can react to redirect the shark by hand if necessary. Some people fold their arms or put their hands behind their back however I personally prefer to put my hands in a praying or boxer defense position so that I can release my hands quickly to push away the shark if needed. Often you can position yourself in the water so that you can use your fins to redirect, this creates distance between you and the shark.

Avoid Provoking The Shark

Sharks are apex predators which means they’re usually at the top of the food chain in any ocean they can be found in. Sharks are not used to being challenged by other creatures and when threatened, have a fight or flight instinct. If you provoke a shark by trying to force an interaction with it, this will only deter the shark from wanting to be around you. Sharks don’t have hands, instead, they use their mouths to defend themselves from harm. A provoked or throated shark may bump or bite whatever is causing the threat, as a form of self-defense. Grabbing, poking, touching, riding, or chasing are the most common ways that a shark may feel provoked and should be avoided to ensure safe interaction with these animals.

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