Fear of sharks in open water swimming



  • bruckbruck San FranciscoMember
    edited June 2015

    This must have been incredible to see! 15 whites cruising around near shore in Monterey Bay.


    "Today I went up with Specialized Helicopters and we witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime event. We saw over 15 great white sharks swimming within a quarter mile radius. It is a treat to see one or two this time of year, but in my 20 plus years at sea, I have never seen anything like this," Thomas said.
    "Fifteen magnificent and feared animals can swim within feet of hundreds of Junior Lifeguards without anybody even knowing it. These sharks were most likely feeding far offshore and swam into shallow, warm waters to warm up," Thomas said.
  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    While I don't want to meet up with a shark up close and personal, my fears are similar to those expressed by @heart -- the ones that a shark shield (however effective) can't chase away. Maybe we need "thought shields."

    In a recent masters swim practice, our coach had us do an open water simulation practice in the pool--a 50m pool in which he set up two buoys at one end and one at the other in a triangle pattern. We were all to swim around these buoys on his go.

    Now this is the safest setting you can imagine for such a practice (well, except you don't want to bump into the side of the pool and the enclosed space could cause other issues). But the water was clear and sharkless (as sharks don't much care for chlorine) and only in the middle was it deep--not even very deep, just at my eye level.

    There's a big triathlon weekend in my area so this was a way to help swimmers registered for either the sprint or Olympic distances to get some extra practice (although they canceled the swim for the sprint and will probably do the same with the Olympic distance, due to water quality).

    I'm not nearly as experienced as many of you in open water, but I've had o.w. swims of up to 5.4 miles and had the chance not long ago to swim in the Hudson against the current (some fear there, though also more frustration than fear).

    Yet during that pool simulation, I was more and more fearful than in those other swims, because of bodies pressing against and colliding with me. It got so I needed to pull out and take some deep breaths. The idea was to prepare swimmers for triathlon starts and buoy turns--and typically, I don't do triathlons (although I did a swim leg of a tri in May--actually pretty tame compared to what I encountered in the pool). Also, the stand-alone swims I do have fewer swimmers and we tend to spread out more, so collisions are pretty rare.

    My usual procedure at the start of o.w. swims is to stay at the back--I'm not fast, and when I start, I want a bit of space around me--and the day I start a race in the lead, you'll probably also hear that all of Hawaii was experiencing blizzard conditions and sub-zero temps. Once I get going in an open water swim, it's all about just getting from point a to point b as efficiently as I can, although that aspect still needs work. The nerves come before and after mostly, not as much during--although I've had moments where I think "why am I doing this and not sipping a glass of wine on shore?" Mostly the feelings that I experience are either frustration, pain (too soon for the shoulders to hurt!), nausea (seasickness), and other annoying things, but these I distinguish from outright fear... roadblocks, but not fear so much.

    But during this drill, the coach insisted that I line up next to the buoy at the start. In fact, he chose me to be the closest to it--so I was dealing with a lot of collisions. I don't hold that against him--I think he was trying to get me past that fear. We talked a bit about it so I'm cool w/ that--he's been my coach over a year, and I like the workouts and training I've gotten. He can be pretty tough but I see the rationale for what he does. I must say the next day during a short open water race, I wasn't nearly as startled when people ran into me, which in a short race, happens more often.

    Fear takes a lot of shapes--and I'm always surprised at the things that scare me... and those that don't. I may become afraid of sharks if I have too close an encounter ... i.e. see one near me--but that fear is on the back burner. It's peculiar that a pool practice could have evoked so much more fear than an attack of seasickness in mid-swim though.

  • HollyTHollyT Member

    Living in Florida, we are rather aware of sharks and their travel patterns. I have to admit when I first started OWS I really was terrified. Statistics do indicate that attacks/injuries are rare, but...as a person with a rare connective tissue disorder, it really matters not to me that it is rare, since I have it. So, If I am the one to encounter a shark...you know all the statistics in the world won't help in that situation. If my leg gets bitten I will still have to deal with the aftermath, even if the bite was an accident....unintentional. Since I, and many others swim fairly regularly in areas known to have Bull sharks (that are known to be kinda aggressive) I have thought about it quite a bit.
    in all the different OWS groups I've swam with sharks are never directly mentioned before a swim, it seems to be one of those unwritten rules. Mention of sharks seems to create bad Juju. I honestly think for some people that helps.

    For me, I swam a 2.5 mile race off the Jacksonville FL beach where MaryLee the Great white had been...I got a little nervous and then realized the water wasn't clear and I couldn't see anything SO...once I realized I would never see the shark coming...I oddly relaxed and didn't care. If I can't prepare for it...well, then no point in getting worked up about it.

    NOW...I have a Keys swim coming up and I hear it's common to encounter Hammerheads out there, and I'm still trying to figure out how I will react if that happens because the water is clear down there and you can see pretty much everything... any Hammerhead tips?

  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member

    HollyT said:
    NOW...I have a Keys swim coming up and I hear it's common to encounter Hammerheads out there, and I'm still trying to figure out how I will react if that happens because the water is clear down there and you can see pretty much everything... any Hammerhead tips?

    You should consider it good fortune to see a hammerhead. That's my tip.
    They have small mouths.


    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • HollyTHollyT Member
    edited June 2015

    david_barra said:

    You should consider it good fortune to see a hammerhead. That's my tip.
    They have small mouths.

    True that. Now...to keep from entirely feeling panic....

  • tortugatortuga Senior Member

    Seen the news from NC lately? 6 shark bites in 2 wks :o(

  • Dmoiss40Dmoiss40 Phoenix, AZMember

    This is a really interesting thread. I am very new to long distance swimming. I mainly do triathlons but am planning on swimming the Catalina Channel in July of 2016. That being said, I have mixture of a healthy fear and respect for the ocean. When I am swimming in it I know that I am on the bottom of the food chain and anything can happen. It's it scary, yes. But I don't allow that fear to keep me from doing something that I have come to really enjoy. The biggest problem I have is dealing with friends and family,( who aren't OW swimmers), fears about sharks and other dangers.

  • HollyTHollyT Member

    tortuga said:
    Seen the news from NC lately? 6 shark bites in 2 wks :o(

    Apparently it has been a very big sea turtle season for the area, which is drawing them in closer to shore. :(

  • tortugatortuga Senior Member

    good and bad to everything

  • JMalJMal Member

    Lawd,lawd!......I swim every other day in the pond(Redondo, Hermosa, & Torrance beach). Was somewhat behind the group last summer when the experienced swimmer was bitten last summer due to poor fishing judgement.

    I suppose everyone thinks about it in the OW.
    We're lucky that the ones spotted in our area are juve'z. -Not yet seal-eaters.
    I don't doubt that they are in the water near us, but probably swim away if we should get close.

  • I just saw this video...one place I wouldn't be excited to go open water swimming is South Africa.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member
    edited July 2015


    grappledunk said:
    I just saw this video...one place I wouldn't be excited to go open water swimming is South Africa.

  • jroyerjroyer Member

    This one is my favorite

  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member



  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    It appears that the sea is a pretty safe place to play...just avoid areas with lots of humans.


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • tortugatortuga Senior Member

    So a buddy of mine who was a navy rescue swimmer tells me there's a surefire way to test the water for sharks. You scoop up a bit of water in your hand and taste of it. If it tastes salty, there's sharks.

  • tortugatortuga Senior Member


  • tortugatortuga Senior Member

    I've swam in Lake Nicaruagua where there's bull sharks and still have all appendages :o)

  • I have to admit I did a shorter swim last weekend (3.75 ish miles from one bridge to another) in the Indian River Lagoon in Florida. It's known as a bull shark nursery, so I always feel a bit cautious when I do this swim, but this year the water was super murky and choppy and I did get hit by something from underneath... Consensus is that it was probably a Juvenile bull shark... because Dolphins and manatees (who are also present there) don't really usually "bump" from underneath like that. It was a bit unsettling. But without all the music ahead of time and no warning, it was far less frightening than the films. Of course...I looked around for other swimmers (none) etc, and then decided that I had just better get on with the swim. Sure did feel strange though, the skin of whatever it was and it felt very powerful as it ran into me. and Yes, I will probably go back there again...

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    Ah yes, that music. Occasionally you will see someone swimming and you can tell they are hearing the music. Symptoms may include a noticeable increase in stroke rate, screaming "something touched my leg!" and/or sprinting abruptly for shore. If you hear it, try to turn the volume down and keep swimming.


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • NoelFigartNoelFigart Lebanon, NHSenior Member

    Because I am a wimp with waaaayyy too good of an imagination, I actually downloaded a hypnosis mp3 to listen to that's supposed to help with fear of sharks.

    FWIW, I don't visualize sharks in the POOL any more. We'll see how that works in actual salt water.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    Just don't download the Jaws music mp3! ;)


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    This is one of those "oh...hello" moments:

    Oscar 6.1x


    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • wendyv34wendyv34 Vashon, WASenior Member

    And so then he said "you look like you could use some company..."



    It's always a bad hair day when you work at a pool.

  • rosemarymintrosemarymint Charleston, SCCharter Member

    @wendyv34 a great reason for bilateral breathing! So you can say hi too!

  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member

    Did folk see this


    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member

    One of those random thoughts: Was the individual in question more likely to have been attacked by being in a wetsuit, alternatively was the survival of the individual assisted by the presence of the wetsuit?


    http://notdrowningswimming.com - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin

  • BridgetBridget New York StateMember

    I've always quipped that being slow is safe- by the time I arrive, any sharks are well fed on faster swimmers.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member

    To add to the nightmare, we've got this to worry about.

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member

    Here is an article from yesterday about a man who (allegedly) swam 4 miles with a shark alongside him. It does not answer the obvious questions (like why?).

    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    Last spring was the first time I have encountered a shark. I was swimming along when suddenly coming the opposite direction was a shape that took a mere instant to recognize. I had that brief moment of fear and then relaxed when I saw that it was just out for a morning swim like me. We passed about 15 feet away from each other. I saw that it was pretty small, maybe 4 feet long, which eased my mind considerably. I stopped and watched it go by swimming fluidly and marveled at the beauty of it. I'm sure it wondered if I was ever going to correct my stroke to get a smooth, almost effortless motion like normal water travelers use.

    Maybe sharks attack people out of frustration. "When are you going to stop thrashing about and learn how to swim properly... ahggg, jeez, I can't stand it any longer... CHOMP!"

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member

    Every few months while I was training off of Ft Lauderdale Beach I would see a small grey reef shark down in about twenty feet of water. No real threat to us, however, I would move in much closer to shore. I did see a hammerhead once while swimming there in 1999 or 2000. Dave Barra quoted earlier in this thread that they have small mouths. I have no idea if that's true or not. However, in the South Florida setting; where there's one hammerhead, there's bound to be one hundred more nearby. They tend to swim in large packs.

    I wasn't a talented athlete or even a swimmer. I started to get pretty good as a 13-14 in th mile and moved to the OW when I could. You stick with what you're good at (I wish I was better at the 50 free, so I wouldn't have to swim these damned 10-hour swim. I'm injured now, so not a problem.)

    I was fortunate to swim in some pretty high stakes events like Pan Pac, World Trials, and the English Channel to name a few. Some races like Tampa are known for bull sharks. I didn't do anything to provoke them like wearing a red swim suit, but I NEVER concerned myself with either the weather or sharks. THOSE THINGS ARE YOUR COMPETITORS PROBLEM. Let them think about it so it gets into their heads. Let them be afraid.

    That's all I've got.

  • NZL1NZL1 AucklandNew Member

    Resurrecting another old thread - I did read a lot of it and couldn’t see an answer to my question - namely:

    Does anyone use any kind of shark deterrent device when OWS?

    I’m swimming in the open ocean here in NZ every day. I’ve never had any significant encounters.

    BUT…. as the waters here have warmed up and we’re into the NZ summer holidays, shark sightings have soared.

    It’s unclear if the shark numbers are the same and we are simply getting more reports because more people are in and around the water right now.

    Or if we actually do have more sharks this year.

    Either way, my daily swimming sometimes puts me uncomfortably close to recreational fishing boats and whilst I take precautions to avoid being run down, I’m conscious that fishing activity tends to attract sharks.

    Hence my interest in potential shark deterrents - either worn by me or deployed from my support boat running a few metres away alongside me.

    Any thoughts?


  • kejoycekejoyce New EnglandSenior Member

    Hi @NZL1

    I observe for the Massachusetts Open Water Swimming Association here in the northeast US where we have great white activity in the summer. We have a couple of these shark shields which are required for certain swims in the bay. We trail one behind the support boat for the duration of the swim:

    To my knowledge that is the only shark deterrent product that has actual science behind it showing that it deters sharks. None of the wearable bands have been scientifically proven to actually have any impact. There is also some science about how sharks perceive light and shadow which has led some swimmers to paint themselves with zebra-like black and white stripes.

    We also have a shark protocol for swims in the bay, to avoid confusion if a shark is spotted. Crew and pilot are encouraged to keep a lookout:

    "If the pilot hears of a sighting somewhere in the bay, he does not need to take action. However, if someone on the escort boat or kayak spots a shark, that sighting should be confirmed by a second person. If a shark is sighted, note the direction in which it’s headed and visually track the shark if possible. (If possible, try to identify the species of shark, as this information can be very useful to local mariners, environmental groups, and other bay users.)
    If the shark approaches the group (escort boat, swimmer, or kayak) and gets within 50 yards of any of these parties, the swimmer should be removed from the water.
    If a shark is sighted, but does not approach within 50 yards of the group, then it’s up to the pilot, crew, and swimmer to decide whether or not to continue the swim.
    Once the swimmer leaves the water the swim is over and he or she cannot reenter the water once the shark has swum away."

    FWIW, we have never had any encounters! Good luck with your swim :)

  • NZL1NZL1 AucklandNew Member

    Ok thanks for that.

    Tomorrow I’m attempting a new open water PB for me - 16.5km between 2 islands in the Auckland region.

    I’ll let you know how it goes! 😳

  • abeabe australiaMember

    good luck

  • NZL1NZL1 AucklandNew Member

    I obviously survived - didn’t see a single fish - as per my post in the Taper thread:

    A few hours ago I finished swimming Kawau Island to Tiri Tiri Matangi Island, off Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.

    It was much tougher than expected especially into the wind for last 2hrs. Took 7hrs 35 mins which was about 2hrs longer than I planned.

    Straight line distance was 16.5km but tracker shows I covered closer to 18.5km.

    My previous longest swim was 10km in 3:30hrs 12 days earlier. So this was well over 2x duration and ~1.85x distance. A bigger jump than I planned.

    I considered giving up several times in the last 2hrs and only my support crew kept me motivated.

    After all it was purely a personal challenge not a competition, so I was swimming alone.

    So the last 2hrs became a mental battle with myself, as much as a physical battle.

    Anyway, looking forward to a beer & steak for dinner!

    And I need a rest (I’m 55 yrs btw so no spring chicken)!

  • LakeBaggerLakeBagger Central OregonSenior Member

    I’m also a user and fan of the Ocean Guardian’s freedom 7 shark shields. I have my kayakers thread it through the scupper hole in the kayak. It trails along underneath the kayak and parallel to the length of my body, as long as I’m able to swim with my head in line with the hips of the kayaker.

    This product has been tested in independent, peer reviewed studies where the shield was attached to a bait canister and shark behavior was observed with the shield turned on versus shield off. Shield off: the sharks gobble up the bait. Shield on: sharks abruptly turn when they get close to the bait.

    I’m very confident in the effectiveness of this technology given my careful review of these studies. No shark is going to mistake you for a seal when it’s getting its electrical sensors blasted with an electrical field that is nothing like it’s ever encountered before.

    They are pricey, but worth it when swimming in the ocean in the middle of the night, seeing stuff swim underneath you.

    I haven’t seen anything remotely convincing about shark banz or other, less powerful shark deterrent devices, but who knows?

  • NZL1NZL1 AucklandNew Member

    Ok thanks for this.
    I might invest in one of these if my swimming extends into dawn / dusk / overnight activity.

    Question - if you happen to know the answer - the website shows the device attached to the diver. Like you, I would not want to wear it myself but would probably trail it from a small dinghy (that itself is being towed behind a larger support vessel).

    Would this work as effectively? And how close do you need to start to stay to the device? My support vessel is under power and it’s sometimes difficult for them to match my (slow) speed exactly.

  • BillyChambersBillyChambers OhioNew Member
    edited January 8

    Would this work as effectively? And how close do you need to start to stay to the device? My support vessel is under power and it’s sometimes difficult for them to match my (slow) speed exactly.

    Keep in mind I've never used these devices while reading this :)

    I might be wrong, but looking at multiple places, it says that it normally deters sharks by a couple of meters.

    On the site in their FAQ, there are a few places that mention that it keeps them away 1.3m in some of their studies.
    Link 1

    On Wikipedia it mentions a study done in 2018 saying that it increases the distance of sharks from their bait canister by about 1m (to about 2.6m away total), but a study done in 2012 says that it's effective range is 4-5m total.
    Link 2
    Link 3

    It looks like they have a few different products on their site that have different claims of effective distances as well so keep that in mind (Just comparing the FISH series vs the FREEDOM series that they have). For your question, it would probably be more effective the closer your vessel is to you, as the effective distance that I'm seeing is not that large.

    Also congrats on your swim!

  • LakeBaggerLakeBagger Central OregonSenior Member

    Great answer @BillyChambers.

    If your swim is an official swim, you can’t swim behind a support boat or dinghy at close enough proximity for the freedom 7 to be effective, due to needing to avoid drafting. And you’re right about support boats— they have trouble going a swimmer’s speed exactly, consistently, so the dinghy and device would likely be out of range even if you were trying to swim next to it rather than behind it.

    You could have someone pilot the dinghy next to you using a small outboard motor and rig up the shark shield so it dangles beside or underneath the boat parallel to you.

    The strength of the electrical field is strongest closest to the device and is less powerful the further you get from it. I like to swim around 5-6 feet from my kayaker for other reasons, but not everyone likes to be so close.

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