KNOW THE FACTS
Worldwide, your chance of being attacked by a shark while enjoying the ocean is 1 in 11.5 million, and the chance of dying from a bite is less than 1 in 264 million annually, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.
The International Shark Attack File is a compilation of all known shark attacks. The file is administered by the Florida Museum of Natural History and the American Elasmobranch Society, a professional organisation of international workers studying sharks, skates and rays. Compared to a shark attack, a typical beachgoer is 75 times more likely to be killed by lightning, and 450 times more likely to drown in a rip current.
During my eight years of service as an ocean lifeguard on Phuket’s beaches, there were two suspected shark attacks islandwide, with zero fatalities. In that same time frame, 253 people died, and 417 more were seriously injured in ocean drowning incidents. Rip currents were, by far, the number one cause of injuries and death at Phuket’s beaches.
UNDERSTAND PREDATOR BEHAVIOUR
Predatory fish in the ocean bite for two main reasons, both related to survival: to eat, and to defend themselves. Barracudas and sharks do not purposefully target humans for food. If this were the case, there wouldn’t be many survivors once a bite is initiated. Yet, according to the Florida Museum Worldwide Shark Attack (USA) summary, only 12% of unprovoked shark attacks on humans in 2021 were fatal.
“Most sharks are not dangerous to humans – people are not part of their natural diet,” says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (USA). To help explain this, a recent study has confirmed that sharks can mistake humans for their natural prey due to poor vision and murky water. The lead author, Dr Laura Ryan, said in a statement, “… white sharks have much lower visual acuity than us, meaning they cannot see fine details, and lack colour vision.” This explains why the vast majority of shark attacks on humans are limited “investigation” bites, and end in the shark swimming away.
This is the most likely explanation for the recent incident at Kamala Beach. The water at Kamala is often murky, which led to a case of mistaken identity and an initial investigation bite. The encounter then abruptly ended.
REDUCE YOUR RISK
To reduce the remote possibility of a marine predator bite even further, take the following precautions:
- Avoid swimming in murky water, or at dawn or dusk
- Don’t swim near schools of fish or where people are fishing
- Avoid swimming near river and klong outlets after heavy rains
- Swim near a lifeguard
- Avoid wearing jewelry
- Avoid excess splashing
- Swim with a buddy
Daren Jenner is the International Marine Safety Officer, Thailand Section Chief, International Surf Lifesaving Association. He worked on the front lines as an ocean lifeguard on Phuket for eight years, and is the author of numerous water safety articles for The Phuket News.