Tips for Being Shark Smart this Summer

Tips for Being Shark Smart this Summer

A sandbar shark tagged on an SCDNR longline survey trip (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

A sandbar shark tagged on an SCDNR longline survey trip (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

If you’ve taken a dip in the Atlantic, chances are you’ve been swimming with sharks.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of beachgoers pack their coolers and head to South Carolina shores. And whether we realize it or not, sharks are never too far away. South Carolina's green estuaries and open ocean are home to around 20 shark species, from the diminutive bonnethead to the famed white shark.

But don't let that discourage you from swimming  the odds of having a negative encounter with a shark are very, very low. Despite the number of swimmers on South Carolina beaches each summer, the state averages just four shark bites per year.  

That’s because humans aren’t on the menu for most sharks. The sharks that share our waters are interested in fish, not feet. The majority of shark bite incidents are what biologists call “hit-and-run” cases, in which a small coastal shark species mistakes an ankle or foot for a normal food item. Upon realizing their mistake, these sharks (often the blacktip shark, says SCDNR shark biologist Bryan Frazier) swim away without causing serious injuries.

The likelihood of being bitten by a shark is very, very small. Still, there are steps you can take that may further reduce the odds of an unwelcome encounter with a shark. Here are some commonsense tips for staying safe in the water:

  • Don’t swim alone. Like many predators, sharks are more likely to prey on individuals than a group.

  • Don’t swim at dawn, dusk, or night, when visibility is lower and sharks may be more active.

  • Avoid wearing jewelry, watches, or other shiny objects in the water. Their metallic glint may look like the silvery scales of a fish to sharks.

  • Avoid wearing bright colors. Sharks have keen eyesight underwater, even in murky conditions, and they see contrast particularly well.

  • Avoid swimming near piers and anglers fishing in the surf, where bait may attract sharks.

  • Don't enter the water when schools of baitfish are present. Signs of these small fish, which attract larger predators, include seabirds diving into the water and dolphins feeding.

  • Avoid entering the water if bleeding. (Side note: There has been no research to indicate that menstruation affects one’s odds of being bitten by a shark.)

  • Never approach a dorsal fin! Contrary to popular conception, sharks and dolphins do feed in the same areas. If you see fins in the water and cannot safely identify them, the safest bet is to wait on shore until the animal(s) move through.

The Atlantic sharpnose shark, one of South Carolina's most common species, maxes out at four feet long. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

The Atlantic sharpnose shark, one of South Carolina's most common species, maxes out at four feet long. (Photo: E. Weeks/SCDNR)

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