Why, when and how do sharks attack surfers

Sharks: surfers and swimmers are not on his diet | Photo: Shutterstock

Sharks are at the top of the food chain. The ocean predators follow their instincts. The good news is that humans are not on their diet list. However, like us, they make mistakes, too.

Swimmers and surfers are not sharks' favorite meals. They prefer sea lions, sea turtles, fish, whales, and seals.

The majority of shark attacks occur near the shore, in the surf zone and sandbars, because their natural preys live in these areas. But attacks also take place in steep underwater drop-offs, where divers often swim.

Sharks have to make quick decisions to capture food and, sometimes, the predator misinterprets humans for their natural food items.

When that happens, sharks put their teeth to work and generate 40,000-pound of pressure per square inch that crushes flesh and bones in the split of a second.

The most deadly shark species are the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), and the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas).

Sharks: they are more active during twilight hours because that's when they are searching for food | Photo: Shutterstock

Types of Shark Attacks

There are three main types of unprovoked shark attacks: the hit-and-run attacks, the bump-and-bit attacks, and the sneak attacks. In other words, sharks have three different attack strategies.

In the hit-and-run attacks, the shark inflicts a small laceration on the victim, swims away, and never returns.

It's the most common shark attack, the less dangerous, and usually involves surfers and swimmers.

The bump-and-bite attack usually occurs in deep waters. The shark circles and bumps the victim before inflicting potentially deadly wounds.

In sneak attacks, sharks appear without warning and bite their victims to death.

Shark attacks are more likely to occur at dawn and dusk, precisely when they're more active searching for food.

Also, because the visibility is limited during the twilight hours, sharks may mistake you for prey animals or enemies.

That is why you must avoid surfing alone in shark-infested waters. The predator tends to attack individuals rather than groups, so crowded lineups can have their advantages.

Tips for Staying Safe

Scientists believe that sharks can smell and taste blood from a distance, so people with open cuts and menstruating women should stay out of the water in areas known for regular attacks.

But there's more: surfers catching waves after it rains or in fishing and sewage-affected areas carry a higher risk of being attacked by sharks.

Contrasting colors in surfboards, wetsuits, and boardshorts, and shiny jewelry are also not a good idea.

Avoid murky waters, and don't stay too far out in the lineup. Change your direction regularly as if you were acting like a predator.

Stay away from areas where there's a high density of sea lions, turtles, and fish.

Storm drains, jetties, fishing harbors, river outlets, and piers tend to be more dangerous spots, too.

Take a look at the most surprising facts about sharks, and learn how to survive an attack.

For more on this topic, read "Surfing With the Great White Shark."