Why Don't Sharks Attack Scuba Divers?

Why Don’t Sharks Attack Scuba Divers?

Voluntarily entering the home environment of a widely feared apex predator sounds like a slightly crazy thing to do. In fact, providing it’s done respectfully the odds of being attacked by a shark while scuba diving are minuscule.

Despite the hype and horror stories, there are, on average around ten deaths caused by sharks per year, worldwide. And the majority of those are surfers or swimmers, not divers. Since divers choose to interact with sharks, while swimmers and surfers would clearly prefer not to, this may seem surprising. Why do sharks not attack scuba divers?

Sharks know what they like to eat


The majority of shark species choose to feed on smaller fish and invertebrates. Some of the larger species eat turtles, seals or even sea lions. Do sharks attack humans? Well yes, it has been known. But its usually in response to a perceived threat, or by mistake. Do sharks eat humans? No, not really. Humans, particularly neoprene clad humans are simply not on their list of favored foods.

Sharks are smart

Bull shark playa del carmen

By and large sharks will tend to avoid contact with people. And for good reason. Worldwide deaths to humans from shark attacks, as stated above, average around ten a year. Worldwide deaths to sharks caused by humans could be as high as one hundred million a year. Around seventy-three million are killed by fishermen, mainly for their fins, which are widely used in Asia for shark-fin soup. Tens of millions more sharks are estimated to die each year, caught up in fishing gear intended for other species.

What Does Cause a Shark to Attack Humans?

Given that sharks don’t generally consider humans food, and that they have good reason to fear us, why do sharks attack people? The most common reason is likely to be that they get confused. Surfers or swimmers are mistaken for more natural prey such as seals, which spend a lot of time on the surface. The chances are the shark just takes a single bite then realizes its mistake. Since even a single shark bite can be large this isn’t much comfort to the person who’s been attacked.

Sharks might also attack a human if they’re feeling threatened. Or alternatively, if they’re already in the midst of a feeding frenzy and the person is swimming or diving amongst the intended prey. For these reasons, any diver who wants to dive with sharks should do some research. Understanding what might trigger one is very important when considering how to avoid a shark attack.

How Not to Get Bitten by a Shark

Bull shark

Divers who want a safe close encounter with sharks should:

Consider the timing of the dive: Dawn and dusk are when sharks feed, so these are riskier times to dive. It’s also a time that’s sometimes chosen deliberately, as it’s when the sharks are most active and interesting. It is possible to dive safely at these times, but it’s important to do so with people who know exactly what they’re doing.

Avoid shallow or murky water: Poor visibility increases the chances of an accidental encounter. Bull sharks, in particular, prefer to hunt in exactly these conditions.

Limit time on the surface: Try to enter and exit directly from a boat, avoiding long surface swims. Many sharks hunt for dead or distressed animals on the surface and as a swimmer, you might be mistaken for these.

Keep your activities quiet and calm: Avoid splashing, and fast movements, either could get you mistaken for prey or a threat.

Dive in a group: More eyes means more people to watch out for each other. Do make sure your group is composed of competent divers and led by a local expert. In Mexico for instance, Koox diving offers dives with Bull sharks. These are led by experienced divemasters with local knowledge and are only open to divers with advanced open water diving certificates.