How To Tell If A Shark Is Near: Helpful Guide

how to tell if a shark is near

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You and I have both, at some point in life, turned on the TV or opened our newsfeed to the news of a shark attack.

Whenever it happens, no matter how remote, the news of the incident will travel the world within a few hours and have you scared to get back in the water.

Before thinking sharks are dangerous, mindless killers and canceling your trip to the beach, think of the fact that these attacks are newsworthy because of how extremely rare they are.

Mosquitoes kill an average of 1,986 people PER DAY and you hardly ever see them on the news.

However rare there are still a few attacks here and there every year so to ease your mind today I will give you a guide on how to tell if a shark is near.

Let’s dive right in to learn about the signs that may alert you of the presence of a shark, what to do if there is one close by, what could possibly attract them to you, and more. 

How Do You Tell If A Shark Is Nearby?

I wish there were specific, fail-proof signs I could give you that would alert you of a nearby shark, but unfortunately the best thing to do is to always be aware of your surroundings. 

Sharks inhabit every ocean and can be found at all depths so it is best to assume that one can always be close.

However, there are 3 signs that you can look out for that are good indicators that a shark, or at least a larger predator, is in the area: 

Jumping fish

If you see a school of fish jumping out of the water there is a very high chance they are avoiding a larger predator.

Better play it on the safe side and steer clear of the area for a while.

Diving birds

If there are several sea birds excitedly diving into the water this means there is a school of fish.

If sea birds are attracted other predators will be attracted as well so it might be best to avoid the area until the feeding frenzy is over.

Dark shadow or fin

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you see a dark shadow or unidentified fin just assume it’s a shark and stay on land.

Remember it’s very rare that a shark would attack a person but better to play it on the safe side. 

It would also be best to avoid fishing areas or piers as sharks have a strong sense of smell and will be attracted to the smell of bait and fish guts that are discarded.

These predators are also attracted to the electrical currents sent out by struggling fish as they’re caught in nets or fishing lines. 

What To Do If A Shark Is Nearby

First of all, chances are sharks are always present but they decide to ignore you. According to experts, this is the case 99.9% of the time.

Now, if you notice a shark is around it’s better to ensure you don’t end up in that 0.1% so let’s get into what you should do if a shark is nearby.

The best thing to do is to get out of the water as soon as you can.

This has to be done calmly, frantic movements that cause splashing and thrashing give off the same electrical vibrations as struggling fish which could lead up to a confused shark mistaking you for prey. 

If getting out of the water is not an immediate possibility here is what you should do:

Maintain eye contact

Sharks don’t want to eat you but they may want to come to check you out, however, they are shy creatures so making direct eye contact will likely make a curious shark suspicious and swim away.

Don’t panic 

Don’t think you can outswim a shark so don’t even try it. Remember erratic movements resemble dying prey and could trigger a predator-prey response.

Maintain a calm demeanor as you make your way out of the water.

Be prepared to fight back 

If you are in the unlucky 0.1% who will experience a shark attack in your lifetime, don’t go down without a fight.

Sharks will swim away from prey that is too much trouble. Hit the shark with anything you can (knife, rock, fists) and aim for the nose, eyes, and gills.

Signs To Look Out For When Around Sharks

Sharks rarely confuse humans with prey (it does happen from time to time) and some attacks occur because the shark feels threatened by your presence as it may see you as a potential competitor. 

When this happens the shark will rarely just attack out of the blue without first giving you very clear signs that it isn’t happy with your presence in the water.

Some of the most obvious and common agonistic displays include:

  • Arched back
  • Rapid movements (up and down, side to side, zig-zag)
  • Flaring of the pectoral fins
  • Rapidly opening and closing its mouth

It is usually very obvious to spot the signs of discomfort as they’re meant to let you know that the shark wants you to leave but if you’re not entirely sure if a shark is behaving aggressively or not just assume it is giving you warning signals and get to safety ASAP.

There is an excellent scientific paper with an extensive list of around 30 agonistic behaviors that have been identified in sharks and you can find it here.

What Attracts Sharks To Humans?

Although extensive research has been done to identify exactly what attracts sharks to humans results are mostly inconclusive but some fundamental premises have been established:


Auditory cues seem to be more effective than sight or smell and are the primary reason a shark will move into an area.

The noise made by a swimmer in distress or an injured fish draw in sharks from greater distances. 


Sharks can’t see color very well but notice the contrast between light and dark colors and are very interested in it.

Avoid brightly colored swimwear, especially in areas where sharks are known to hang out at. 


It’s true that sharks are attracted to blood, just not human blood. They have a keen sense of smell and can tell apart human blood from other prey species.

It might still be better to just get out of the water if you have a bleeding cut just to be extra safe, and to, you know, take care of that cut. 

Another thing you may want to avoid is shiny jewelry. The reflection of light on it resembles fish scales so maybe leave your jewelry safe on land when getting in the water.

Final Thoughts

I hope that you find this guide helpful and take the information provided here into account during your next trip to the beach. 

Remember the ocean is where sharks live and although they’re not ruthless killing machines they’re not exactly cute and cuddly and caution should be taken when entering their habitat. 

As apex predators, they play an extremely important role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems and deserve our utmost respect and admiration.