5 Expert Tips for Surviving a Shark Attack

Paul de Gelder takes part in Shark Week 2019.
Paul de Gelder takes part in Shark Week 2019.
Courtesy of Discovery Channel

With the Discovery Channel rolling out its annual Shark Week programming, we’re once again reminded of our fascination with sharks, the apex predators who possess the destructive power of a table saw.

Why the appeal? According to shark expert and former Australian Navy clearance diver Paul de Gelder, ruminating over sharks and their ability to dominate us in the open waters is just human nature. “It’s fear of the unknown,” de Gelder tells Mental Floss. “It’s a fear of an animal you can’t see coming eating you alive.”

De Gelder is uniquely qualified to comment on our preoccupation with sharks. In 2009, he was attacked by a bull shark, which took part of his right arm and part of his right leg. Rather than hold a grudge, de Gelder has become a shark advocate. “I never blamed the shark,” he says. “The shark was just doing what a shark does in the ocean.”

Attacks like the one de Gelder endured are incredibly rare. According to the International Shark Attack File maintained by the Florida Museum, just 66 confirmed attacks were recorded in 2018. Of those, 32 were unprovoked attacks—in other words, an incident "where an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark." (In many cases, these attacks are more like test bites, with sharks using their mouth to explore the potential for something being dinner.)

On the highly unlikely chance you come face-to-nose with a shark, de Gelder has some tips that may improve your chances of survival. And don't forget to catch de Gelder on various Shark Week programs like Shark Trip: Eat. Prey. Chum and Laws of Jaws: Dangerous Waters this week.

1. Don’t panic around a shark.

If you’re in water and find yourself suddenly in the company of a shark, instinct will tell you to relocate immediately. Resist that urge. "When you see a predator, you want to get away as fast as possible," de Gelder says. "But then you’re far more likely to get bitten." Panicking will put a shark in predatory mode. Remember: Just because a shark is around doesn’t mean you’re automatically on the menu. "When we do swims with sharks, nine out of 10 people will say, ‘I didn’t feel threatened. I didn’t feel like the shark wanted to attack me. It was just curious.’ Hold on to that. It will keep you calm."

2. Try to maintain eye contact with the shark.

Paul de Gelder gets up close with a hammerhead during Shark Week 2019Courtesy of Discovery Channel

Like dogs, sharks respect assertiveness. "The best thing to do is confront a shark," de Gelder says. "Not with aggression. Stay calm. Keep your eyes on it. Show them you’re a predator, as well." If a shark approaches, you can push them away. You don’t want to start a fight you’re likely to lose, but you may avoid one by letting the shark know you’re not docile.

3. If a shark attacks, fight back.

The unfortunate reality of a shark attack is that if one does decide you might be food, you don’t have much say in the matter. Even a test bite, where the shark may give you an inquisitive nibble, can cause grievous injury. And if it’s a full-bore assault, you’re in all kinds of trouble. “'When the shark grabbed me, I felt pressure," de Gelder says of his own attack. "But I didn’t feel the teeth go in. I didn’t feel any pain until it started shaking me and ripping me apart."

Still, doing something is better than nothing. De Gelder advises to "go wild," punching and attacking the shark however you can. The eyes, nose, and gills are all good targets. "Anything that shows the shark you won’t take it," he says. "Maybe you’ll get out." Having a weapon on hand is even better. You can use a knife and aim for the gills or underside of the shark, but don’t try stabbing the top. “You won’t be able to penetrate it,” he says.

4. If a shark has bitten your arm, keep it over your head.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a shark lose interest, swim as fast as you’re able to shore or safety. If you have an arm wound, make sure you keep it raised above your heart. “Keeping it above your heart will stem the bleeding,” de Gelder says. After losing his hand to the shark that attacked him, de Gelder had the presence of mind to raise his arm, which may have contributed to his survival.

5. Whatever you do, try not to look at the wound.

Paul de Gelder appears in Shark Week 2019.Courtesy of Discovery Channel.

Humans are no match for sharks, and the wounds the animals inflict can be devastating. One thing de Gelder was careful not to do was look at his severely damaged leg. “I thought that if I didn’t look at the wound, I wouldn’t go into shock,” he says. "It’s kind of like when a little kid cuts his finger. He doesn’t start crying until he sees blood. I knew there was something wrong with my leg but I didn’t know what. I knew it might be horrific. I didn’t focus on it.”

Shark Week 2019 runs through Sunday, August 4th. You can view the full lineup of programming here.

Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.