If recent headlines have you thinking it’s not safe to go in the water, there’s some good news: The chances of being attacked by a shark are just 1-in-11.5 million, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File. “It’s usually a case of mistaken identity,” says Bradley. “The shark sees something that might look like the food they normally eat and will bite the arms or legs once or twice and then go on their way.”
Great white, tiger, and bull sharks—all found in U.S. waters—have been involved in the most unprovoked attacks on humans, likely because they are large sharks feeding on large prey that may more closely resemble humans, explains Bradley. Most U.S. shark attacks occur on the East Coast, predominately in Florida. “This has a lot to do with the distribution of sharks and the number of people in the water,” says Bradley. “There are more than 20 million people who visit beaches in Florida per year and only about 20 attacks per year, so your risk is still pretty low.”
But as miniscule as your chances are, it’s still best to stay alert in waters that sharks have been known to frequent. Skip swimming at dawn or dusk, which offer a bad confluence of diminished light and feeding times, says Bradley. And leave flashy jewelry ashore: It may also attract sharks, as it can mimic the sheen of fish scales.
If you do spot a shark, keep an eye on the animal and leave the water immediately. If the shark approaches or attacks you, try to punch or kick its face because that is the most sensitive area, says Bradley.