How to Avoid Sharks (Hint: Don't Wear This Color) — and What to Do If You're Attacked
Swim as Fast as You Can
Although shark attacks are very rare, beach season is heating up, and already a 21-year-old college student from California was killed by a group of sharks while vacationing with her family in the Bahamas on Wednesday.
PEOPLE previously spoke with Larry Cahoon, professor of biology and marine biology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, about what do to if you come face-to-face with a shark.
"People say to swim slowly back to shore, but what is that going to do? Swim to shore as fast as you can. A shark that means to eat you will keep coming," Larry Cahoon, professor of biology and marine biology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, tells PEOPLE. "You need to call for help. People who survive all but the least damaging shark attacks got immediate help from others.”
Don't Aim for the Nose
According to experts, attempting to punch a shark in the nose could put you in an even worse position — closer to its teeth! Despite the popular believe that aiming for the snout is the best strategy, a shark's most sensitive areas are actually the eyes and gills. So if a shark does come for you, claw at its eyes and gills.
But as Cahoon says: “A 10-foot bull shark will weigh close to 500 pounds and is essentially all muscle. What chance would anyone have?"
Cahoon adds: "You won't be thinking rationally even if you have the opportunity to punch it, so just focus on getting back to land.”
Sharks Hear Everything
“Sharks hear very well. They know you’re swimming, they know where you are and they normally don’t care,” says Cahoon. “But the one thing that changes the dynamic is if sharks hear fish struggling when fishers are reeling them in."
That's when Cahoon says to stay out of the water.
“That’s a dinner bell to them and they can get very interested in eating,” he says. "That's when they’re probably more likely to attack a human, either from mistaken identity or from being actually interested in eating something that’s close by."
Keep Your Yellow Clothing at Home
“Sharks see contrast particularly well, so any color that forms contrast with the ocean will be more apparent, particularly yellow," George Burgess, director of Florida’s Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida, tells PEOPLE.
Shark experts, he says, call the neon yellow often seen on bathing suits and life vests, "Yum yum yellow," because it can be readily seen by sharks.
Another thing, he says, is "to avoid is wearing shiny jewelry, because the light glinting off of it can look like light glinting off of fish scales."
They Come Close to Shore
Many sharks go into the shallowest of waters, according to Burgess.
"There’s a thought that you shouldn’t go too far off shore because sharks are in deeper water, and that has a little bit of legitimacy to it," he says. "One of the most important things to do in the water though is stay together in groups. If you become isolated that’s when a shark targets you, that’s why fish swim in schools. There’s safety in numbers. If you stick together your chances are much lower [of getting attacked] than if you’re swimming by yourself."