It’s no secret that sharks have a terrible reputation because of how the media has decided to portray them for the last few decades.
It’s been proven time and time again that these truly amazing creatures are not mindless, merciless man-eaters, and incidents involving sharks are actually quite rare, but still every time there is one everyone immediately sees them as the devil itself.
However, while most people fear them because of what is seen on tv others actually seek out encounters with these misunderstood apex predators.
If you belong in the latter group then it’s your lucky day because today I bring you the ultimate guide on how to swim with sharks (safely).
Read on while I tell you if it can be done, if it’s safe, if there are shark species that you shouldn’t swim with, and proper etiquette while in the water with sharks.
Do People Really Swim With Sharks?
YES, people swim with many different species of sharks constantly. In fact, many places around the world offer “swim with sharks” experiences for tourists looking for an underwater adventure while on vacation.
Most species encountered in these popular tours don’t pose a major threat to humans as some are filter feeders, too small, or just generally unaggressive but there are also tours that will get you in the water with great white sharks if you’re looking for a bigger adrenaline rush.
Great white shark dives are not really “swim” experiences as you’ll be in a cage but it’s still something that is not for the faint of heart.
Is It Safe To Swim With Sharks?
YES, but also sometimes no. You can find shark swim experiences around the world offered by snorkel and dive schools.
Like I said before, most species encountered in these tours don’t pose a substantial threat to your well-being due to their size and behavior but any encounter with wildlife poses inherent threats.
When you are talking about encounters with sharks specifically truth is any shark of adequate size poses a threat to humans.
Although it’s been proven that sharks are not really interested in eating you a shark that’s large enough could seriously harm you even if it’s due to mistaken identity.
In case you’re wondering what I mean by “adequate size” it’s any shark with a length of at least around 1.8 m / 6 feet.
If you want to know exactly what shark species are responsible for the most incidents, “the Florida museum” has compiled an extensive list of all unprovoked attacks, both non-fatal and fatal, registered since 1580 and you can find it here:
If you can’t check out their website right now I’ll sum it up for you:
- Total fatalities: 132
- Total attacks (non-fatal): 814
As you would expect, the white, tiger, and bull shark, also known as “the big 3”, are responsible for the most attacks and fatalities:
- Great white shark: total non-fatal attacks: 297 / Total fatalities: 57
- Tiger shark: total non-fatal attacks: 102 / Total fatalities: 36
- Great white shark: total non-fatal attacks: 95 / Total fatalities: 26
It’s important to remember that these 3 species aren’t bloodthirsty man-eaters out to get you, they’re apex predators with a massive size which makes them intrinsically dangerous.
These sharks should be admired and respected knowing they’re capable of inflicting harm therefore taking all the necessary precautions.
Something else to take into account is that these numbers have been registered over a 442-year period! That makes the numbers appear much smaller, doesn’t it?
How To Swim With Sharks Safely
So you have read this far, are aware of the risks of swimming with sharks, and are still very much set on checking this adventure off your bucket list.
Now let’s do a step-by-step on how to swim with sharks safely.
Choose a reputable tour operator
I can’t stress enough how important it is that you choose a service provider that is knowledgeable and reputable.
When choosing one look at its rating, ask how many people go on each tour (big numbers are a red flag), and ask what the safety and emergency protocols are.
This information will start giving you an idea of whether this operator knows what it’s doing and puts your safety first.
Use calm, confident movements
Remember sharks are very responsive to the electrical currents they sense in the water.
If you jump in the water too energetically or start splashing and thrashing while swimming you will imitate the vibrations sent out by struggling prey.
Needless to say, you want to avoid this so that there is no chance for confusion. Remember most shark attacks occur due to mistaken identity.
Use correct body language
Position yourself horizontally. Put yourself in the shark’s shoes (or fins) for a second: coming across a long animal swimming vertically is a pretty unusual sight.
This can make the shark want to come to check out if the weird long fish is prey or not, and remember sharks may check with their teeth.
Also, remember to give the shark plenty of space, this will ensure it doesn’t feel threatened and if something spooks it chances are it will just flee.
However, if something spooks a shark and you’re closed in on it there is a higher chance of attack.
Can You Swim With All Sharks?
No. While technically anytime you get in the water you could, unknowingly, be around different shark species, you will not find a tour that takes you free swimming with great white sharks for example.
Although you may have seen pictures of divers gracefully swimming alongside massive great whites, these are usually trained professionals (biologists, researchers, etc.) that have a vast knowledge of shark behavior and remain safe by reading the animals’ body language.
Reputable swim experiences with great white sharks, available to the general public, will always include a cage.
When it comes to the tiger and bull shark you can find guided tours and, granted the operator knows what it’s doing, the risk of injury is minimal.
However, due to the size of these predators, the possibility of injury is not nonexistent.
Some sharks are hard, or near impossible, to swim with because of how difficult it is to find them or as a consequence of the harsh marine environments they inhabit, such is the case of the Greenland shark for example.
What Not To Do Whilst Swimming With Sharks
Let’s take a look at some of the things not to do whilst swimming with sharks.
Avoid swimming with sharks at dawn and dusk
These are the times when most sharks are actively looking for prey which makes them behave more aggressively.
Avoid confusion by staying out of the water during these lowlight hours.
Avoid murky water
If you can’t see very well neither can the shark. It will be easier for the shark to confuse you with potential prey if it can’t see exactly what you are.
Never try to touch or chase a shark
I will say it again, always give the shark space! A shark may come up to check you out but it is not OK for you to go chasing a shark minding its own business.
Don’t go alone
Always do this via a reputable tour operator.
With this article, I want to ensure that you minimize the possibility of injury while swimming with sharks but I don’t want in any way to portray sharks as man-eating killers.
Thousands of people deliberately swim with sharks year after year without any issues and chances are it will be your case too.
Any close encounter with wildlife poses an inherent risk of injury and guided shark encounters pose an extremely small threat when compared to most other animal-related experiences but it’s important to remain safe that you are always aware of the risks and behave accordingly.
I am a lover of everything nature and animal related with over 15 years of experience in the field of wildlife rescue and education. Currently living in Colombia working with wild and domestic animals and spending all my free time writing about them 🙂