By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 2 January 2014
How To: Beat a Shark in a Fight
Let’s not pussyfoot around with some measly small-spotted catshark or krill sucking basking shark. Let’s dive straight into the deep end and talk about the legend… the great white shark. Should you ever find yourself face to face with one of the most awe-inspiring predators in the world with no way out, here are some handy tips on how to beat a shark in a fight.
Great white sharks have very sensitive snouts. The snout is covered in tiny pits called ampullae of lorenzini which if you get close enough, look like little black dots. These pits are filled with a jelly-like substance that allows the shark to sense electromagnetic fields given off by muscle contractions. Short of stopping your own heart and being stiller internally than a corpse, the best way to work around this ‘sixth sense’ of the great white shark is to over stimulate the ampullae of lorenzini by rubbing them. In smaller species, divers have discovered they can place sharks in a state of ‘hypnosis’ which they call tonic, by rubbing these pits. The shark becomes motionless and can even be manipulated in the water. So, work your best massage skills on the nose of the great white shark and it might put its lights out long enough for you to make a dash for it.
Poke its eyes out
In the split second in which a great white shark launches an attack on its prey, it will roll its eyes back to protect them. Although sharks rely more on their other senses such as the ampullae of lorenzini and a very impressive sense of smell more for predation, their eyesight is good and an important asset. If you stick your fingers in its eyes as its coming for you, you’re likely to stun it long enough to think of a more effective plan B.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I can’t remember who originally sad that but in this scenario it could save your life. Rather than attempting to fight the shark to overpower it, you can use its size and power against it. If you climb on top of the shark and hold on to its dorsal fin you can fin surf (this has been done). Eventually, the shark will begin to tire, resulting in a speedy getaway for you whilst it’s too knackered to follow.
For all their menacing appearance, the teeth of a great white shark are not that strong. In fact, they break off so easily when stuck in the muscle of a seal wriggling to get away, that great white sharks have five more rows waiting on the sidelines ready to pop up (not quite instantaneously) and take their place. You may want to practice punching the bullseye of a moving dart board whilst submerged in momentum-killing fluid first to hone your accuracy skills, but if you successfully manage to punch the sharks’ teeth out, what’s it going to do? Gum you to death?
Call for back-up
In 1997, off the coast of the Farallon Islands, footage was shot of what appears to be a killer whale killing a great white shark. Since then, a couple more incidences have been observed elsewhere along the coast of California and some scientists have reported that when the killer whales move in, the great whites appear to move out, even when no attacks on great white sharks have occurred that season. Some have suggested that the incident in 1997 was caused by a female killer whale protecting her calf and the shark was killed in ‘self’-defence. Others believe that killer whales may kill sharks for other reasons, perhaps for predation, perhaps to wipe out the competition. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself in the ring with a shark looking for a fight, a killer whale is probably your best, if not only, chance of a wing-man.
Important notice: We would like to take this moment to point out that we do not condone violence against sharks in any way and suggest that the best way to be a winner is not to enter the fight in the first place. Also, as a shark scientist Emma-Louise believes that both putting a shark in tonic and fin surfing are inadvisable for the health and wellbeing of the animal.
Emma-Louise Nicholls is the Curatorial Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology