How To Avoid A Shark Attack, According To Kimi Werner
Or at least, lower your chances of experiencing one.
Given the undeniable uptick in shark attacks over the last few years, Stab figured we’d ask someone who’d know, what it's like to be around a shark and how you should behave (on the rare occasion you’re aware of its presence). Every bit of knowledge could help, right? Kimi Werner is a US Spearfishing Champion, all-round Hawaiian water-woman, and shark aficionado. We tapped into her deep ocean knowledge, and her responses were a revelation.
Stab: If you spot a shark, what should do you do?
Kimi Werner: When I spot a shark it’s always when I’m free-diving, and my first instinct is to always swim towards that shark. When I first started encountering sharks early on in my diving career, I had the opposite reaction where I would get really scared, especially if they would steal a fish from me, and I’d back away from the shark as fast as I could. I learned quickly that this would just make the shark more aggressive and interested in me. As I got more comfortable with sharks, a hunter’s instinct started to kick in and there was one day when a shark was coming up to steal my fish and I really wanted that catch. So I charged the shark to protect my catch in a way to tell him to get his own dinner. Swimming toward the shark made him instantly back off and that was a learning experience for me. Since then whenever I see a shark I try and swim toward them because I realised that that’s something that prey doesn’t do.
(Stab doesn’t necessarily recommend you go out and start rushing sharks, by any means. But, Kimi's the experienced one.)
If it starts to show interest what do you do? I just mimic their behaviour. If they’re coming in really hot at me, I swim back with the same intensity towards them. It can be really scary. One time I did this with a big tiger shark and it felt like we were playing a game of ‘chicken’ and I was so relieved when it turned at the last minute. But for the most part I just mimic their behaviour, if they are cruising and moving slow I do they same. But if they are acting aggressive, then I make sure to match that energy.
What shouldn’t you do? You should never panic. You should never start splashing and thrashing your way away from the shark. You cannot out-swim a shark, so you shouldn’t try. You should always keep an eye on the shark as much as you can and you should always try and face them and swim towards them.
When and where should we not be surfing/swimming, in your experience? Murky water is always going to put you more at risk for shark encounters going wrong. Sharks don’t have hands, and if they feel a vibration of something next to them and they can’t see it and want to test it, they’re either going to bump you or they are going to use their teeth to feel you out. Being able to see is what keeps me safe, murky water always creeps me out when it comes to sharks.
Any signs we should keep an eye out for when we arrive at a surf spot? Shark attacks seem to come in seasons for many different reasons, so it’s always good to listen to what’s been going on in certain areas. If there have been a lot of shark sightings or shark attacks, it’s always a good idea to sit it out until things calm down. Any type of dead animal in the area obviously makes it a more dangerous situation also.
What are some of the main things you’ve learned about sharks that you want to pass on to ocean-goers who mightn’t be as knowledgeable? The main thing I learned about sharks is that the fear of them is worse than the reality. Shark attacks are a definite reality and I’m not saying that they’re not. The fear of them not only far outweighs that reality, but it also increases the chances of that reality coming true. So the main thing I would like to pass on is that if you find yourself in a situation with a shark, that is your absolute best opportunity to turn fear into courage and face it off.
Any final tips? One main tip is just to try and keep your vibrations low. All sharks have a lateral line on their body that is there to pick up vibrations. If your heart rate starts going through the roof or you start panicking, screaming and splashing, all of that will be vibrations that get picked up and they can easily mimic a fish or other animal in stress. This is something that can easily get the interest of a shark that might have otherwise just passed by. So staying calm is key to safety.