The stats say humans have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than they do of being attacked by a shark. Still, a triangular fin strikes fear in any beachgoer. This summer, shark attacks seem to be on Americans’ minds more than usual. Maybe it’s because of the 40th anniversary of Jaws. Or maybe it’s because there has been a real-life Jaws scenario unfolding off the North Carolina coast. Last month six swimmers were attacked by sharks in separate incidents, including two kids who each lost part of their left arms. Scientists haven’t yet determined what is causing the uptick in attacks. But since sharks don’t target a certain kind of human—they’ve recently gone after everyone from a young girl to an 18-year-old boy to two men in their 40’s—it’s vital to know what to do if you’re ever confronted by one. Here are five defense strategies.
1. Stay Still
If you spot a shark in the water around you, stay calm and still, recommends the Florida Museum of Natural History. Most sharks are simply checking you out and will leave on their own. Let it explore until it swims away, then make your way out of the water.
2. If the Shark Attacks, Fight Back
In rare cases, sharks will attack. Remember, you are engaged with an animal that can weigh 500 pounds or more, has skin that resembles a coat of armor and possesses razor-sharp teeth, so hit the shark in its most sensitive area—the nose. If the shark doesn’t retreat, punch it in the eyes or its gill openings, which are located in front of its pectoral (lateral) fins. Sharks respect size and power, notes the Florida Museum of Natural History.
3. Swim Away
Once a shark has attacked you, it knows you’re there, so there is no use in playing dead and hoping it will swim off. “Swim to shore as fast as you can,” says Larry Cahoon, professor of biology and marine biology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. A shark that intendeds to eat you won’t go away. You have to escape.
4. Counteract a Shark Bite
If a shark bites you and doesn’t let go, “latch onto its muzzle with any free limbs to avoid being thrashed,” recommends Surfer Today. Sharks try to stun or shock their prey by thrashing, and you want to avoid being knocked out. Again, claw, kick and elbow the eyes and gills. Do not stop moving or the shark might think you’re dead and try to eat its catch.
5. Employ Prevention Tactics
Avoid drawing the attention of sharks in the first place: Don’t swim near fishermen whose bait and fish attracts sharks. Swim in groups of people—sharks are less likely to attack crowds. And, since sharks can mistake shiny surfaces for fish scales, leave your jewelry at home.