Can I survive a shark attack by gouging out its eyes?

Poking Sharks' Eyes and Noses

Here's lookin' at you, kid.
Here's lookin' at you, kid.
Jeff Rotman/Getty Images

So the question remains, when a shark attacks, do you fight back? Generally, you want to escape quickly and quietly before a shark makes contact. If you can't swim to safety, and the shark bites, it's time for the gloves to come off. When possible, hit it with something other than your hands or feet (like a fishing pole or a stick) because you risk losing a limb. Showing aggression like this will help you escape because a shark will often not want to pursue prey if it must spend a ton of energy wrestling it [source: National Geographic Survivor].

Many shark attack resources recommend going for the eyes and the gills because these are the most sensitive parts of a shark's body. By striking the eyes, you aren't trying to blind it but rather stun the shark into swimming away.

But in the heat of the moment, unless you're directly facing an eyeball, it may be too difficult to focus and strike at such a specific target. Also, maneuvering around a shark's mouth to get to the eyes could get your hand bitten off. Your position in the water also determines how successfully you can strike. If you're swimming on top of the water and a shark comes at you from below, gouging out the eye will prove challenging.

Instead, shark expert George Burgess of the International Shark Attack File advises walloping a shark's nose for the same effect [source: USA Today]. Shark studies have even found that touching a shark's snout can cause it to halt mid-motion and not attack. The reason could be the tiny electrical receptors called ampullae of Lorenzini that speckle the area around sharks' noses and mouths. The pores are filled with electrically conductive jelly that catches any changes in the electrical currents around the fish. Hitting sharks' faces may disrupt that unique sense, resulting in an unpleasant sensation.

Once you fend off the shark, remember that particularly aggressive ones will return for a second round. For that reason, after you free yourself from a shark's grip, try to swim away quickly without a lot of splashing -- splashing will continue to attract the bully.

Above all, try to stay calm. Though hand-to-fin combat with a shark probably sounds like a nightmare, the odds are on your side. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 90 percent of shark attack victims swim away with minor injuries [source: NOAA].

For more information about sharks and ocean safety, visit the links below.

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  • Allen, Thomas B. "Shark Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance." Globe Pequot. 2001. (June 5, 2008)
  • Burgess, George H. "How, When, Where Sharks Attack." Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department. (June 5, 2008)
  • Dingerkus, Guido. "The Shark Watchers' Guide." Wanderer Books. 1985.
  • Discovery Channel. "Sea Survival -- Sharks." (June 5, 2008)
  • Lineaweaver, Thomas H. "The Natural History of Sharks." Nick Lyons Books/Schocken Books. 1970.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Shark Attack News Conference." Transcript. May 21, 2002. (June 5, 2008)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Shark Species." (June 5, 2008)
  • Parker, Jane and Parker, Steve. "The Encyclopedia of Sharks." Firefly Books. 2002.
  • USA Today. "Travel: Shark expert George Burgess." May 20, 2003. (June 5, 2008)