Why Don’t Sharks Attack Scuba Divers?

Why Don’t Sharks Attack Scuba Divers?

Sharks generally hunt near the surface, sometimes mistaking humans floating at the surface to a seal or other animal of prey. As scuba divers spend the majority of their time under the water, shark attacks on scuba divers are extremely unlikely.

Sharks don’t attack scuba divers, because they simply do not find us tasty enough – they would rather take a snack out of a blubbery seal than your human flesh!

“Bull sharks you say!?”

You hear another diver on your dive boat exclaim, and you pause, look out to sea for a moment and then turn around to see what is going on with another dive group. “Yeah mate, bull sharks, but don’t worry, no one has ever had any trouble” comes the reply from another dive guide.

Does your mind start to race – sharks?

Bull sharks?

At our dive site?

Surely this is extremely dangerous?

For the first time, you turn to your own dive guide and ask them – “what’s this talk about bull sharks!?

Your dive guide explains that this particular dive site, located in the Gulf of Thailand has had bull sharks frequently for years and at times hundreds of people have been diving with them every day and there have been no worries and in fact, they will swim right up to you and even ignore you.

But it doesn’t sit right, you know sharks are dangerous, right?!

So you push back with the question: Is there some reason they won’t attack us, like in one of those Hollywood shark movies such as “JAWS”?

To be honest, it is an absolutely fair question with the amount of negative publicity when it comes to shark attacks.

The media often overdramatize the situation and make sharks look like these deadly beasts, which they are not. If you have ever been scuba diving with sharks before, they are extremely gracious.

Shark attacks on scuba divers have happened, but they are in extremely rare circumstances. The sharks that will attack humans do so as they are confused and think it’s their prey or have been provoked.

When we scuba dive we do not look, sound or feel like anything in the water that a shark would instinctively like to eat – in fact, we confuse the hell out of them, so they generally ignore us.

Great Whites, Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, and Oceanic Whitetips, are the only four sharks in the ocean that would even contemplate attacking a human, and even so, these attacks are extremely rare.

While other smaller sharks like the Mako Shark have been responsible for a bite here or there on an unsuspecting swimmer’s leg, these sharks soon let go when the size of their prey is realized, as we are too large for them to eat.

Still not convinced? Here’s why you should not be afraid of shark attacks on scuba divers!

Why You Should Not Be Afraid of a Shark Attacking You While Scuba Diving

We are not their ‘ideal’ prey, they would much rather take a bite out of a seal. The chance of scuba divers being attacked by a shark is a 1 in 136 million chance, you are more likely to be attacked by a falling coconut! Sharks are majestic marine animals that should not be feared, which is why scuba divers should not be afraid of a shark attacking during a dive.

People dive every day with Bull and Tiger sharks in places like Mexico, Fiji and Thailand.

The interactions with these sharks are either benign, as in they ignore us, or they are used to being fed by local dive guides as an attraction for divers on their holiday. If you go diving in one of these locations for a specific shark dive, you will be briefed on what to do if they come too close, but again the bubbles and tanks put them off thinking we are food.

All sharks have an electrosensory component to their nervous system. This component is made up of the “ampullae of Lorenzini” (a sense organ located in the shark’s snout area) and the lateral line that runs down the length of their bodies.

Together they allow them to feel or see the electrical signals from other animals in the water. A human with a scuba tank does not emit anything they recognize as prey – which is another reason for them to leave us alone.

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

No one really dives with Oceanic Whitetips as they cruise the oceans waters, far from land, hunting for opportunity targets.

The attacks on humans from these sharks have almost exclusively been shipwreck survivors who have been floating out in the open ocean and therefore have become easy prey for a large opportunity shark like the Oceanic Whitetips.

The largest shark attack in history was when a Japanese submarine sunk the USS Indianapolis in 1945 during WW2. Out of the 900 men who went overboard, only 317 ended up being rescued. Many drowned but estimates of up to 150 men were taken by Oceanic Whitetips, with one account of a rescue plane flying over the debris watching it happen in real-time.

These kinds of accidents are obviously extremely rare, but it’s important to note that everyone was on the surface, not scuba diving.

Great White Shark

Great White Sharks

Great White sharks have a fearsome reputation and when people intentionally dive with them, they do so in cages as these animals are so massive that even a ‘love bite’ or a gentle tap on a diver to see what they are, out of curiosity rather the to eat – can still be fatal as these sharks have very powerful jaws.

There is often food or chum that is placed to attract the shark to the cage in the first place, which can sometimes them aggressive.

Almost all shark attacks attributed to Great Whites are on surfers who are surfing in places that maintain large seal colonies like Southern California, South Africa or South Australia.

As a surfer (or a swimmer) looks similar to the shape and shadow of a seal at the surface – Great Whites will power from the depth and hit the surfer with an incredible force which is can be fatal.

Surfers and Seals look very similar from below. This is why most shark attacks are on surfers and are a case of mistaken identity.

Once a Great White realises the surfer is not a seal, they always stop chasing them as they are confused. The issue is, again, the shark is so large and powerful, that the initial bite on a surfer is almost always fatal due to loss of blood.

The lesson here is that scuba divers while representing a large portion of people who go into the ocean every year are almost never victims of shark attacks as we confuse them enough that they don’t know what we are and as we are under the water they can get quite close to us and can determine that we are not food.

Of course, there are other sharks that are not dangerous that people dive with every day too: gentle Whale Sharks, Blacktip Reef Sharks, Hammerheads, Nurse Sharks and an assortment of reef sharks that are all either too small to worry about or in the case of a Whale Shark, only eat plankton.

The statistics for 2020 indicate 57 shark attacks occurred worldwide, with only 10 being fatal. 61% of shark attacks happened to surfers, while only 4% were on scuba divers and they were all at the surface.

The elegant and gentle Whale shark.

So should you be worried about diving with sharks?

The answer should be a big NO – provided you understand the local conditions, dive with local experts and understand the noisy bubble-blowing scuba diver is not a meal for any sharks.

Encountering sharks underwater is amazing! The chances of seeing sharks are, unfortunately, becoming extremely low due to overfishing and the shark finning trade, which we will go into detail a bit later on in this article.

So, if you are lucky enough to see a shark while diving, what should you do?

What To Do If You Encounter a Shark While Diving?

When you encounter a shark, the best advice is never to provoke it. Always give sharks plenty of space, stay calm, and swim slowly around them. Never panic as this attracts attention and may frighten them, leading to a self-defence response.

This is actually the reason many people love to dive, to see these magnificent and ancient creatures in their natural habitat. Whale Sharks in Western Australia, Thresher Sharks in The Philippines and reef sharks everywhere have people travelling the world to experience these animals underwater in some of the best scuba diving destinations.

Whether or not you expect to see a shark, when you do, it’s important to stay calm and move slowly and steadily underwater. Do not panic and never chase the shark, as you may provoke an unexpected reaction.

Sharks, like all animals, will try to defend themselves if they suspect they are threatened, even ones with no reputation for being aggressive.

Relax, watch them swim past or around you and enjoy their majesty and millions of years of evolution and remain confident that they will not attack you.

Be familiar with the hand signal for a shark, then you can signal to your dive buddy and if they show you the hand signal, you will know there is a shark near you both.

But one thing’s for sure if you do encounter a shark (lucky you!), then, believe it or not, we are not on their meal plan!

Why Do Sharks Not Eat Humans?

Good news – we are not on a shark’s menu! Sharks do not like the taste of us, so they never actively hunt humans, especially scuba divers.

While some unfortunate people have been fully eaten by a shark, almost all attacks are of mistaken identity and the shark will stop their attack once they realize that we as humans are not what they want or desire.

Shark experts from the University of California believe that we are not nutritious enough, we have never been part of their diet and once they realize we are not seals, they leave us alone.

Simply put, we are parts of different food chains, and we have never been part of any shark’s regular diet. Every shark attack and every person that has been attacked has been either mistaken identity or an opportunistic target like shipwreck survivors floating out in the middle of the ocean.

Sharks are large fish, therefore they require a lot of calories to maintain proper body function. If they were to ‘gobble up a human, spending a few days digesting us instead of eating something much more calorie efficient is not worth it!

While sharks do not choose humans over other tasty meals they can find in the ocean, humans spend hours every day hunting sharks, which contributes to the decline of many shark species including the Angelshark which is critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List.

Why Sharks Should Be More Afraid of Humans

We should be asking “why should sharks be afraid of humans” a question that has many answers! Humans actively hunt sharks for meat, especially in the shark finning trade, and they are also frequently caught as bycatch.

Humans have maintained sharks as part of their food chains for millennia. While many sharks have been caught and sold for food like ‘flake’ that you find in fish and chip shops in Australia, it’s generally a bycatch while fishing for something else.

A large threat to sharks has been the practice of shark finning over the past two decades for a delicacy called ‘Shark Fin Soup’ which has traditionally been eaten by the wealthy in Chinese cultures.

The rise of the middle classes has put enormous pressure on shark finning all over the globe as often the sharks are caught, have their fins removed and then thrown back into the ocean alive and finless until they die.

Apart from the tragedy of these needless deaths, the meat is not even eaten, just dumped. All this for a soup that has no taste and is nothing but a status symbol!

It’s not only shark fin soup! An average of 100 million sharks are killed every year in destructive fishing practices, which contributes to their 70% decline over the last 50 years.

It is not all ‘doom and gloom’, countries like Malaysia and Singapore have now banned shark fin soup at any official government meals and new social pressure from educated people in Chinese cultures have been proven successful in slowing down the practice.

However, still, a lot of damage has been done, so please avoid eating sharks unless you have to, or it’s sustainably caught and is not threatened on the IUCN red list – never eat shark fin soup or support its practice.

Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!

Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.

Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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Final Thoughts

The chances of a scuba diver getting attacked by a shark is 1 in 136 million. Sharks generally hunt near the surface, sometimes mistaking humans floating at the surface to a seal or other animal of prey.

As scuba divers spend the majority of their time under the water, sharks don’t attack scuba divers. Scuba divers that have been attacked by sharks, have likely provoked the animal, resulting in the shark giving them a sign to “back off”.

Remember, always swim slowly and calmly around sharks, giving them enough space, and never chase or get in their way.

Thank you for reading, we hope to see you soon!

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Paul Fulbrook

Paul Fulbrook is a writer, scuba diver, ex-science teacher and marine biologist. He has a passion for coral reef biology, diving on coral reefs and writing about diving. He also loves cats and his children (sometimes).

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