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 takes part in Shark Week
Paul de Gelder gets up close with a hammerhead during Shark Week 2019
Courtesy 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 takes part in Shark Week
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.

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon


As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

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