Is Scuba Diving With Sharks Dangerous?

Snorkeling with Predatory Oceanic Whitetip Sharks
Stephen Frink/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Sharks are amazing and powerful animals. Although sharks are carnivorous, they do not preferentially prey on scuba divers or even humans in general. Sharks do attack humans, but such attacks are extremely rare. Since 2000 (2000-2010), there was an average of 65 shark attacks each year worldwide, and only 5 of them were fatal [1]. These numbers include attacks on scuba divers, swimmers, surfers, etc.

Many Everyday Activities Are More Dangerous Than Diving With Sharks

Scuba divers engage in far more dangerous activities than swimming with the occasional shark – such as sleeping in bed. In a single year, 1616 people died by falling out of their beds [2]. This means that 323 times more people are killed from sleeping in a bed than from shark attacks each year. As another example, a person is more likely to die using a toaster than to die of a shark attack. An apparently benign piece of everyday equipment, toasters are responsible for killing far more people than sharks each year [3]. Still, I have never heard anyone say “I am not having toast, that toaster is a killing machine”.

Deadly Boating and Driving Accidents Are More Likely Than Deadly Shark Attacks

Most divers either drive a car or take a boat to a dive site. These activities are both more dangerous than anything else a diver does on a typical diving day. In fact, driving and boating are exponentially more dangerous than swimming with a shark. In 2009, boating accidents caused 736 deaths [4]. 42,636 people were killed in automobile accidents in the US, which approximately equates to one death every 13 minutes.[5] Annually, it is estimated that 1.2 million people are killed in automobile accidents around the world [6]. In comparison, sharks fatally attack approximately 5 people each year globally, which on average equates to one death every 73 days.​

Even Shark-Related Injuries Are Very Rare

The argument has been made that while sharks do not kill many people, they injure quite a few. Again, this statement must be put into perspective. Sharks injure less than 100 people annually, but thousands of people injure themselves using a toilet each year -- in the U.S. alone! Annually, it is estimated that 50 million people are injured in automobile accidents around the globe [6]. As for scuba diving, approximately a 100 people die each year and more are injured [7], but we still scuba dive as often as possible. There is risk in everything we do, but we do not stop doing things we need to do or enjoy doing because of a small risk. We still drive cars and boats, and we will scuba dive with sharks at every chance we get!

Further Reduce the Risk of a Shark Attack While Diving

If you are still worried that you are going to be attacked by a shark, here are a few tips to decrease the already tiny chance of being attacked by a shark.

• Avoid diving in waters with poor visibility as it increases the chance of a shark mistaking you for something it normally eats.
• Avoid diving at dawn and dusk, as this is when many species of sharks are most active.
• If a shark is spotted, find your dive buddy and stay together. Sharks are more likely to attack solitary individuals than members of a group. Seals use the same defensive strategy with white sharks in South Africa.
• If you are lucky enough to see a shark while diving, stay calm and keep an eye on it.
• If you do not feel safe with the shark then slowly swim to the dive boat or shore to exit the water

The Take-Home Message About Diving With Sharks

We seek out opportunities to swim with sharks. They are a beautiful but threatened group of species. Instead of fearing sharks, divers should cherish swimming in presence of these amazing and increasingly rare animals. Each year, up to 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, jaws, teeth, meat, or by accident [8]. On average, for every human killed by sharks up to 20 million sharks are killed by people. Divers and people, in general, should stop fearing sharks and start protecting them.

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