What if You See a Shark While Snorkeling?

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Expert: Cameron – I have been snorkeling for over two decades and have a certification with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. I have traveled throughout many exotic marine locations and especially throughout the Pacific. During these times I have encountered beautiful and dangerous animals and have learned how to deal with each accordingly, to include sharks.

Snorkeling is an exciting and immersive way to explore the wonders of the ocean.

One of the thrills of snorkeling is the possibility of encountering sharks in their natural habitat.

However, it is crucial to approach these encounters with knowledge and responsibility.

In this article, we will discuss what to do if you see a shark while snorkeling.

We will explore the thrill of encountering sharks, the importance of understanding their behavior, and how to set the tone for responsible and safe interactions.

That begs the question, what do you do when you see a shark while snorkeling?

If you encounter a shark while snorkeling, staying calm is essential. Maintain steady eye contact, gradually move backward to increase distance between you and the shark, refrain from sudden jerky motions, and cautiously make your way back to the boat or shore for safety. Afterwards, report your encounter to a lifeguard immediately.

Below we will break this down to more digestible information.

Click here for a complete guide on snorkeling safety.

Responding to a Shark Encounter While Snorkeling

It can be difficult to follow this instruction in the heat of the moment, but cooler minds prevail.

Remain Calm

Encountering a shark while snorkeling can be an awe-inspiring moment.

It is crucial to respond calmly and appropriately.

At this moment your adrenaline is spiking and you will enter a fight or flight response.

Being able to control this and remain stable is crucial so you can respond appropriately.

According to a Harvard post, this response has evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations.

Do Not Make Any Sudden Movements or Panic

Maintain calmness and avoid sudden movements or panic.

Sudden movements can startle the shark and potentially trigger defensive behavior.

According to Robin Marks, a shark can also feel movement in the water around it at a distance of up to 330 feet.

Do Not Swim Immediately to Shore

You cannot outswim a shark.

Sharks can reach speeds of over 60 mph.

Michael Phelps, one of the fastest swimmers on the planet, top out at 8.8 miles per hour.

Rushing to shore will only increase the sharks curiosity and the potential for an attack.

Maintain Eye Contact

Maintaining eye contact with the shark and keeping it within your field of vision is important.

This helps you monitor its behavior and anticipate its movements.

Back Away Slowly and Exit the Water

Slowly and calmly move away from the shark’s path without turning your back on it.

It is crucial to avoid direct contact or provocation.

While it is natural to feel a surge of adrenaline, maintaining a respectful distance and allowing the shark to continue its natural behavior is key.

If necessary, creating a barrier between you and the shark using an object, such as a piece of equipment or a nearby reef, can help maintain a safe distance.

Report the Shark Sighting

Lifeguard Looking at the Ocean

Upon exiting the water, immediately report the shark to the nearest lifeguard or boat captain so they can inform the public.

If the Shark Attacks Do This

Maintain Eye Contact

Do not take your eye’s off the shark.

Knowing where they are coming from and being able to potentially predict their movements is key.

Get into a Defensive Position

Using whatever defensive equipment you have place it in the less dominant hand, and maintain your dominant hand with the sharks nose.

Guide the Shark Away with your Hand

Sharks are not agile and only have certain options while moving.

They cannot immediately turn their head around if they have swam past you.

If they are slowly headed towards you at a manner in which you can react, push their nose away from you guiding them past you.

Continue this as much as necessary or proceed to the next step if things get even more escalated.

Attack Soft Spots on the Shark

Using the knife, equipment, or your fists; attack the sharks gills or eyes.

The shark is a lazy predator and is not looking for a fight when searching for food.

Once it feels like you could injure the shark, they are likely to leave the scene.

Slowly Exit the Water

While still maintaining eye contact of the shark or at least the direction of where they ran off to, exit the water immediately.

Sharks are known for returning to where the incident occurred, and if there was a good amount of commotion or blood released there will be other sharks.

Seek Medical Attention

Whether you feel you have been injured or not, seek medical attention and alert the lifeguard on duty.

You may have a potential wound and not know since you are under an adrenaline spike.

If Bitten by a Shark While Snorkeling

If you are bitten and the shark has left follow these steps:

  • Exit the water while still watching the shark or area the shark was in.
  • Remain calm and avoid sudden movements to reduce blood loss.
  • Apply pressure to the wound.
  • If a limb is missing utilize your snorkeling mask to apply a torniquet 3-5 inches above the wound.
  • Specifically tell another individual to find help.
  • Specifically tell a second individual to call 911.

Understanding Shark Behavior

Sharks are diverse creatures, and different species can be encountered while snorkeling.

Understanding the types of sharks commonly found in snorkeling areas is essential.

For instance, reef sharks, nurse sharks, and even larger species like tiger sharks may be present.

Each species has its own natural behavior patterns, and it is important to familiarize yourself with them.

Sharks are generally curious and cautious creatures, and most encounters with humans are non-threatening.

Recognizing signs of aggression or curiosity is vital when encountering a shark.

Common misconceptions, such as sharks being indiscriminately aggressive or always hungry, must be dispelled to promote accurate understanding.

What do Sharks Eat?

According to the National Ocean Services, “sharks are opportunistic feeders, but most sharks primarily feed on smaller fish and invertebrates.”

Some of the larger shark species prey on seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals.

So they are not specifically targeting humans, even those that are snorkeling.

Common Sharks You Can Encounter While Snorkeling

  • Bonnethead
  • Bull Shark
  • Blacktip Shark
  • Atlantic Sharp Nose Shark
  • Nurse Shark
  • Tiger Shark

Preparing for a Potential Shark Encounter

Shark While Snorkeling


Educating yourself about the local shark species and their behavior is key to being prepared for a shark encounter while snorkeling.

Research the area you plan to snorkel and learn about the sharks that inhabit those waters.

Understanding their behavior will help you anticipate their actions and make informed decisions during an encounter.

Snorkel with a Buddy

Snorkeling in groups is highly recommended, as sharks are less likely to approach larger groups of people.

Snorkeling Location

Staying close to shore or a boat provides a sense of security and easy access to safety if needed.

Choosing snorkeling locations that are known for having a low shark presence, such as areas away from baitfish or fishing activities, can reduce the likelihood of an encounter.

Additionally, ensuring you have the proper snorkeling equipment, including a well-fitting mask, snorkel, and fins, will enhance safety and visibility in the water.

Related: What to Wear When Snorkeling

Do Not

Shark Fin Above Water

Do not urinate while snorkeling.

While you may feel nice and relaxed while snorkeling, sharks can sense urine and are attracted to it.

It is much safer to stop snorkeling, and head to the shore to relieve yourself.

Avoid the water if you are bleeding.

While there is no evidence showing that women menstruating attracts sharks more, sharks are attracted to blood.

If you have an open wound do not enter the water.

Enhancing Safety Measures

Snorkeling with a dive buddy or a trained guide is highly recommended, as they can provide support and assistance during a shark encounter.

Their presence can offer reassurance and an extra set of eyes to monitor the situation.

If available and approved, using shark deterrent devices can provide an additional layer of protection.

These devices emit signals or stimuli that are designed to deter sharks from approaching.

It is important to choose approved and scientifically tested deterrents.

Following local regulations and guidelines regarding shark encounters is crucial to ensure your safety and the well-being of the sharks.

These regulations are in place to protect both humans and the marine ecosystem.

If you have an encounter with a shark, reporting it to local authorities or relevant organizations contributes to ongoing research and helps monitor shark populations and behavior.

Promoting Shark Conservation

Whale Shark Philippines

Understanding the importance of sharks in marine ecosystems is crucial for their conservation.

Sharks play a vital role in maintaining the balance and health of the oceans.

Supporting conservation efforts and responsible tourism practices helps protect their habitats and ensures their survival.

Spreading awareness about the importance of sharks and dispelling common misconceptions contributes to their conservation.

By fostering respect and appreciation for these remarkable creatures, we can promote their conservation and create a harmonious coexistence between humans and sharks.


Encountering a shark while snorkeling can be an awe-inspiring and unforgettable experience.

Maintaining steady eye contact, gradually move backward, refrain from sudden jerky motions, and cautiously make your way back to the boat or shore for safety are life saving tips when encountering a shark while you snorkel.

Report your encounter immediately to a lifeguard or boat crew to ensure everyone exits the water.

If attacked, remain calm, get into a defensive position, and guide the shark away from you using their nose.

If they are persistent punch or stab their gills or eyes.

By understanding shark behavior, preparing for encounters, responding appropriately, enhancing safety measures, and promoting conservation, we can ensure responsible and safe interactions with these magnificent creatures.

Approaching shark encounters with respect, knowledge, and a sense of adventure allows us to appreciate the beauty of sharks while contributing to their conservation and the preservation of our oceans.

So, dive in, snorkel responsibly, and cherish the incredible moments shared with these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.

[Sources and References]

US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Do Sharks Hunt People?” NOAA’s National Ocean Service, 1 June 2013, oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sharkseat.html.

“Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health, 6 July 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response.

Marks, Robin. “Jean-Michel Cousteau : Ocean Adventures . Sharks at Risk.” PBS, www.pbs.org/kqed/oceanadventures/episodes/sharks/indepth-senses.html#:~:text=When%20sound%20vibrations%2C%20currents%20or,of%20up%20to%20330%20feet. Accessed 5 Aug. 2023.

[Image Attribution and Licensing]

Featured Image by PIRO
#1 Image by Hermann Traub
#2 Image by Suyeon Kim
#3 Image by alon