Updated: Sep 14, 2020
There have been some tough times in Australia recently, the number of shark attacks is sadly on the rise. As of this week, another surfer has fallen victim to a shark attack whilst surfing Queensland's Coolangatta, sadly 46-year-old Nick Slater passed. A heartbreaking moment within the surf community and the 3rd shark attack for Queensland this year.
It is unsure why shark attacks are on the rise within Australia, some blame it on overfishing, being mistaken for food, or just bad luck. It’s a real tragedy to be writing about another shark attack in one of the world’s best surfing countries. Although shark attacks are rare, moments like these hit home and make you realise anyone of us can fall victim to a shark attack.
For new surfers or even the experienced, do we really know what to do during a shark attack? Are we up to date with the latest knowledge or technologies available? Again, it must be stressed that a shark attack is highly unlikely with a 1 in 11 million chance, however, it is not impossible. Below is some information to ensure the safest practice while out surfing and to prevent shark interactions.
Avoid Hunting Times
The prime times for sharks to hunt and feed are at dawn and dusk. As tempting as it is to surf in the morning or evenings to avoid the crowds, if your local break is prone to shark sightings, be smart and waiting until late morning/afternoon.
Avoid Spots Sharks are Likely to Feed
River mouths and deep channels are prone to sharks because of dead fish flowing into the ocean. If there are fishing boats out in the bay, there’s a good chance sharks are hanging around trying to score some food.
Look for Signposts
Most beaches especially in Australia sign if there are any hazards you need to be aware of, from jellyfish, crocs and obviously sharks.
Surf in Kelp Forests
Sharks are not keen to hunt within kelp and will limit your chances of an encounter. Though this is not 100% foolproof.
Avoid Surfing in October
Researchers believe that shark attacks are more frequent in October because of sharks giving birth and coming closer to shore to lay eggs.
Keep Your Surf Gear Monochrome
Sharks can’t see colour but can see contrast, shiny objects that can catch the light such as jewellery should be avoided. Bright colours such as yellow, orange and white could attract unwanted attention.
Talk to the Lifeguards
Have a chat with the lifeguards when in doubt, they will appreciate your concern. Ask if there have been any sightings recently and if not flagged, where is the best spot to surf so you know someone is monitoring you. When possible head out with friends for that extra security.
Should you have the unfortunate experience to encounter a shark, remain calm. Much easier said than done but thrashing or paddling back to shore will only draw more attention to a shark and give it a reason to hunt. Paddling back to shore leaves you vulnerable, instead wave your arms to get attention from shore. Only paddle back to shore if there is some distance when possible, keep all eyes on the shark.
Use your Surfboard as a Shield
As Mick Fanning showed us all back in 2015, using your surfboard as a blocker between yourself and a shark is a lifesaver. Be ruthless with your approach and use two hands. This could cause damage to the teeth and thus calling off the attack.
Gills and Eyes are Vulnerable
The chances of attacking either the eyes or gills are quite slim, especially if you’re being thrashed around in the water, but if you see the opportunity, don’t let it go to waste.
Invest in a Tourniquet Surfboard Leash
OMNA and a few other companies have created surfboard leashes with a tourniquet built in. These come at a price but regardless are worth the investment. A person can die from heavy bleeding in as little as 2-3 minutes, having a tourniquet on hand minimizes the chances of bleeding out while waiting for the lifeguard to deliver first aid.
As stated at the start of this article your chances of encountering a shark are very slim, nonetheless, it’s worth having some extra knowledge especially if you are heading into the water regularly. Be smart and know the area you are planning to surf. Talk to the locals and talk to the lifeguards to get a real sense if you are in danger or not. As always, have fun, look out for each other, and when in doubt, chicken out!