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Are Shark Attacks on the Rise?

In recent years, it seems shark attacks have been making headlines more than ever. Are the oceans getting more dangerous?
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But Ritter prefers to talk about shark "accidents" -- not attacks. Emergency physician Richard Nateman, MD, agrees.

 

"Humans are not really what [sharks] want. When they get a human, that's a mistake," he tells WebMD. They do want fish, so the best strategy for avoiding a shark attack is not looking like a fish, he explains.

 

Sharks usually won't attack someone who's standing or in a vertical position. "They want to attack horizontal things because they know fish are horizontal," he says. Nateman is CEO of South Florida Emergency Physicians at Baptist Hospital in Miami and has seen about a dozen shark victims during his years at the hospital.

 

Even though the risk of attack is low, you may still want to take steps to further limit that risk. Nateman and Ritter offer the following tips:

 

  • Swim where lifeguards can see you.

  • Swim where other people are around.

  • Know how to do CPR -- that's a good idea for many reasons.

  • Avoid swimming during dusk and dawn. This is when sharks have the best vision and are looking for food.

  • Avoid murky waters, harbor entrances, channels, and steep drop-offs. "Murky water is attractive to sharks because it has more nutrients," Ritter explains. "Steep drop-offs or anything that increases the current has more available food ... so that brings in more sharks."

 

If you do encounter a shark, what should you do?

 

  • Stay calm. "Sharks ... can sense your speeded-up heart rate," says Ritter.

  • If the shark has seen you, never ever swim away from it. Stay still.

  • Even if they bump into you, do not move. That's how they check you out.

  • Stay vertical.

  • Don't struggle and splash. You don't want to look like a struggling fish.

  • If a group of people see a shark close by, they shouldn't huddle together. Instead, try to stay at least a body length away from the next person.

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