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With three shark bites last weekend along New Smyrna Beach, beach-goers could be forgiven for being a bit anxious about dipping their toes in the water.
But the beach can be a fun, refreshing way to get moving. So we’ve put together this short list of ways to stay safe and swim confidently.
1. Practice Shark-Safe Swimming Habits
The International Shark Attack File has a handful of tips to help swimmers lower their risk:
- Swim in groups. Sharks are more likely to attack someone who’s alone.
- Stay close to shore. It’s harder to get help if you’re bitten in deeper water.
- Don’t enter the water with shiny jewelry or an open wound.
- Avoid swimming at dawn or dusk.
2. Look for Signs of Sharks
When it comes to shark attacks, not all beaches are created equal. Taking a moment to assess the beach can lower your risk. Here’s what to look for:
- Murky water. If sharks can’t see clearly, they are more likely to mistake a person for prey.
- Bait fish. Avoid beaches with fisherman. And look for signs of bait fish, including jumping fish and diving seabirds.
3. What If You See a Shark?
First, keep an eye on it but leave the water quickly. This seems pretty obvious, but sometimes surfers don’t leave the water when they should because they’re used to seeing sharks.
You should only hit a shark if you’re attacked, ideally on the nose. Your response should be vigorous — sharks respect size and power, according to the International Shark Attack File.
4. Remember How Rare Shark Bites Are
Shark attacks are frightening, and it can be hard to calmly compare their likelihood to more common risks. But reminding yourself how incredibly rare shark bites are can give you another reason to feel less anxious about visiting the beach.
The International Wildlife Museum says your odds of being bitten by a shark are about 1 in 4 million.
Even one of the people bit recently — a competitive surfer named Frank O’Rourke, who was bitten on the elbow on July 28 near the Jacksonville Beach Pier — downplayed the odds.
“You’re more likely to get struck by lightning than killed by a shark,” the 23-year-old told a newspaper. “I’m going to buy a lottery ticket.”
He plans on getting back into the water after his injury heals. As with most shark attacks, none of the three recent attacks inflicted life-threatening injuries.
5. Think About Your Real Risks
The most life-threatening risk in the water isn’t sharks — it’s the water itself.
From 2004 to 2013, there were eight shark attack fatalities in the United States. In that same span, at least 361 people died in rip currents, which are powerful currents of water flowing away from shore.
If you’re caught in one of these currents, try to remain calm and don’t fight it. Swim along the shoreline. And be sure to swim only at a beach protected by lifeguards.
Because our goal is to help people live active, healthy lives, we want them to have fun at the beach. Though sharks can loom large in our imagination, they’re not a reason to stay home.
Being active is a big part of feeling whole, and our mission is to help you create a life of better health.