As a diver, you may have heard the expression “Yum Yum Yellow,” illustrating the common idea that sharks are more attracted by the color, yellow. But is there any truth to this, and where did this belief from? Since there are still many misconceptions and preconceived ideas about sharks, which unfortunately also extend inside the diving community, let’s take a look at all things sharks. Why are sharks important, how sharks respond to people, and what colors attract sharks.
DO BRIGHT COLORS ATTRACT SHARKS?
Sharks have been found to be ‘potentially totally color blind’ according to research from two Australian universities and that sharks may not be able to distinguish particular colors. So what can sharks actually see then? Sharks are known to see contrast very well. This means that any bright color against a murky background will be highly visible to them. Which may attract them to check out that brightly contrasted object. And since sharks don’t have fingers to prod new and interesting things, they use their teeth. This is where the belief that sharks are attracted to yellow objects comes from!
WHAT COLORS ATTRACT SHARKS?
As mentioned, sharks are attracted to high contrast colors. And in murky waters, these colors will be bright yellow and orange. Just think of why we use these colors in our safety diving equipment! This is actually not the color itself that counts, but the contrast with its environment.
Does that mean we should stop wearing yellow and orange items underwater?
These colors are great for safety. In highly murky water and low visibility, yellow fins on the instructor are great for following them around the dive site. There is also a reason why our spare air, the alternate 2nd stage, will be yellow in color and highly visible to anyone who is potentially running low on air.
Most divers will agree that safety is more important, and that the chances of attracting a shark are very minimal. In fact, as divers, we WANT to attract more sharks.
But if you are worried about sharks, and you do not want to attract their attention, then you can stick to wearing dark colors, such as black or blue. This will not contrast too much underwater and will help you blend in with the surroundings. You should also avoid wearing contrasting patterns too.
WHAT ELSE ATTRACTS SHARKS?
In a high shark environment, we would recommend avoiding wearing shiny metallic objects when you dive. These objects could reflect the sun and create very visible flashes that could be interesting for a shark. Sharks see these flashes of light and assume it is the sun reflecting off the scales of a fish; their usual dinner. You can also wear your dive computer under the sleeve of your wetsuit so that the face of the computer does not reflect the sun.
SO, WHAT IS A SHARK?
Answering this question in details would require dozens of pages, so allow me to oversimplify the answer. Sharks are fish, living for the vast majority of them in seawater even if some rare species are known to able to live also in freshwater.
Sharks been swimming the Earth’s oceans for more than 400 million years and have evolved to thrive in all the seas over the world, from shallow waters to depth of more than 2000m.
Sharks are carnivorous, although different species have evolved to eat different food. Some will feed only on plankton and small fishes, while other will snack on crustaceans and some will target bigger fishes or even some sea mammals.
Sharks can be apex predators in their environment, but many are also being hunted by bigger predators. However, the biggest risk for sharks is fishing and it is estimated that yearly more than 100 million sharks are killed for commercial or recreational purposes.
HOW MANY SPECIES OF SHARKS ARE THERE?
There are presently 470 species of sharks known, out of which almost a hundred are considered as extinct.
The smallest one, called the Dwarf Lanternshark, is only 20cm long while the biggest one, known as the whale shark, can measure more than 10m and is actually the biggest fish in the world, whales being mammals and not fishes.
They come in wide variety of shapes, some being really mind blowing like the aptly named Hammerhead Shark and his hammer-shaped head, or the Angel Shark and its flat body similar to a ray.
Out of all those species, only 9 are known to have ever been responsible for a human casualty: Great White Shark, Tiger Shark, Bull Shark, Oceanic Whitetip Shark, Mako Shark, Hammerhead Shark, Blacktip Shark and Blue Shark. And among those sharks, only the first 4 species are responsible for more than 10 human casualties worldwide.
Does it seem a lot to you? Well, just consider that the gentle and friendly Labrador Retriever, this loving family dog, has also been responsible for more than 10 human casualties as well, but in the US only.
WHY ARE SHARKS IMPORTANT TO OUR ECO-SYSTEM?
Any ecosystem is a balance between numerous factors. As predators, sharks are guardian of this precarious balance by keeping the population of species below them in the food chain at a sustainable level for their environment, ensuring thus a healthy diversity of species.
But they do not only help the environment, they are also important for the well-being of the prey population by removing the sick and the weak but allowing the strongest and healthiest to survive and pass on their genes.
WHY ARE SHARKS SO SCARY?
Between 1958 and 1968, there have been an average of 7.3 fatal shark attacks per year all over the world. On the other hand, National Geographic informs us that worldwide about 3,000 people are killed by lightning every year. So, looking at the facts, why are we so scared by sharks and we don’t really mind when a storm is coming?
This comes from our primal fears, deeply rooted in us since we were competing with other animals for food and shelter in prehistorical times. Shark attacks are a constant reminder that we are not always the apex predator. Other animals can also turn us into a prey, but sharks are also the master of an environment where we don’t feel that confident: the water. That’s why our mind will always be more scared by the idea of a shark than of a lion, even as a seasoned diver we feel more confident in our ability to react and defend ourselves on land rather than underwater.
To top it off, those fears have been fueled by the over sensationalism of some isolated shark attacks and have been used by popular movies like the Jaws movies.
IS DIVING WITH SHARKS SAFE?
Diving with sharks can be very safe.
The majority of scuba divers, freedivers, snorkelers and people who enjoy the ocean will most likely think they are lucky to see a shark; marveling at the grace and elegance of this beautiful animal. When you see a shark, you might have a bit of fear or nervousness. But then you’ll probably feel slightly disappointed when the sharks swims off, and just ignores you.
Without a doubt, the immense majority of divers will remember seeing a shark as one of their best diving experiences.
But then, you will have some divers who might get scared by the approach of a shark. Instead of keeping calm, they may start to panic and might hurt themselves against rocks, drop their mouthpiece or even try to resurface quickly. But luckily for them, their buddy and/or instructor will be there to keep them safe and by the time they calmed down the shark will be long gone.
However, we can’t deny that every year there is a diver that unfortunately has a fatal encounter with a shark.
HOW TO AVOID BEING BITTEN BY A SHARK
Shark attacks usually occur by accident despite being known as a dangerous marine animal. Sharks can get confused, and mistake a surfer or swimmer as a seal on the surface. They take a cautionary bite to check it out, realize we are full of bones and not much meat, then swim off. Of course, though, that little taster bite can be fatal to the human.
To avoid attacks by sharks we would recommend the following:
- Always dive with a local expert. Especially when diving during a feeding period. Sharks can get into a feeding frenzy and you will need to make sure you are not in the thick of it!
- Avoid low visibility and murky waters. Again, sharks can get confused and you don’t want to turn around and suddenly be face to snout with a bull shark!
- Move around calmly and slowly. If you are thrashing about underwater, then you will look like a sick or wounded prey; perfect for a hungry shark. Work on your buoyancy and stick to slow movements. This is also very important when on the surface.
- Limit the time on the surface or in mid-water. Kicking on the surface during a surface swim can also look appealing to a shark. If you are on a shark dive, most dive operators will tell you to descend quickly down to the seafloor. This is the safest place when observing sharks.
- And now that we know what colors attract sharks because of the contrast, try to limit contrasting colors and patterns with your equipment
COLORS THAT ATTRACT SHARKS VS CONTRAST
Sharks are not a real risk for divers. The number of sharks that could potentially be dangerous for humans is incredibly limited, and even those ones will not attack divers in normal circumstances. Knowing what colors attract sharks can help you prepare when planning a dive with sharks, but as we now know, it’s the contrast rather than the actual color that attracts them. Diving with sharks is an exciting experience, not always a scary one, and getting to know those wonderful animals is highly recommended to those who would like to enjoy even more their underwater experiences.
After all, if diving with sharks has become so popular, there must be a good reason.