Shark attacks are far less common than Hollywood might have the public believe. In 2010, only 79 unprovoked attacks were confirmed worldwide, meaning few recreational swimmers or divers are truly at risk. However, taking steps to prevent an unprovoked attack is advisable. The first step is to avoid certain colors and reflective surfaces.
Research disputes the myth that a shark's vision is poor or that sharks cannot see colors. In fact, a shark's vision is acutely tuned to the environmental factors of its typical hunting area. For example, sharks that prey in deep waters have eyes designed to see bioluminescence. The retina of a great white shark is divided into distinct areas to see in low light or daylight. While researchers are unclear how sharks interpret color, they have determined sharks can discern contrast and color.
Contrasting Colors and Patterns
Sharks can see stark contrasts between colors or patterns. The Ichthyology department at the Florida Museum of Natural History compiles and tracks information regarding wetsuit and gear colors worn by divers involved in unprovoked shark attacks. Statistics indicate a higher occurrence of shark attacks involving divers wearing typical black wetsuits with contrasting colors such as white, silver or yellow. For example, 23 percent of divers involved in attacks reported wearing white or silver as a contrasting color, as opposed to only 6 percent reported wearing colors such as brown or rust.
A shark may not interpret the meaning of colors like bright greens or yellows, but can still see them. Rescue workers involved in oceanic environments typically referred to the yellow used in safety gear, such as life rafts, as "yum yum yellow," for its tendency to attract sharks to stranded swimmers and travelers. In certain conditions, bright colors provide a stark contrast to colors in the surrounding area, which makes a swimmer more visible. Bright colors may also create confusion in some sharks between a human swimmer and its natural prey. As such, neutral or bland colors are best for wetsuits and gear.
Reflective or Metallic Colors
To a shark, fish scales have a reflective, metallic appearance underwater. Anything a swimmer or diver wears that mimics such an appearance can attract sharks. Watches, jewelry, metallic fabric, and similar attire can reflect light near the surface of the water, leading sharks to believe prey is nearby. George H. Burgess, biologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, advises divers avoid wearing watches, jewelry or other exposed light reflective gear.
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