What It's Like to Be Attacked by a Shark

Anyone who's ever seen Jaws has probably had a few days where they were afraid of the ocean - and these shark attack facts might just bring that fear surging back. In reality, every year, one or two people die from sharks. Sharks seemingly decide at random when to kill a human, and they're kind of flawless at doing just that. Of course, maybe you're the morbid sort of person who wonders what it's like to be attacked by a shark. The moment of terror, the pain, the panic... well, lucky you, because we're going to tell you all about what being killed by a shark is like.

So, when it comes to shark attack death facts, things can seem kind of scary. How do you escape? What are the odds of it happening to you? Rest assured: shark attacks are very rare, and it's even less likely that you'll die from one. That still doesn't make the prospect of an animal gnawing on your flesh any less terrifying.

As a final warning, some of the subjects discussed here are pretty graphic, so this isn't for those with weak stomachs. But hey, if you've seen any shark attack movie ever, you can probably handle it. Just don't plan on going to the beach anytime soon. 

  • Sharks Actually Don't Want To Bite You, But They Will
    Photo: John Singleton Copley / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Sharks Actually Don't Want To Bite You, But They Will

    Contrary to popular belief, sharks are actually not mindless killing machines. Sharks have particular tastes, and while blood makes them a little nuts, their regular prey is seals, sea lions, fish, and lots of other things aside from humans. The fact is, we don't taste good, and neither do our wetsuits, our surfboards, or our diving gear, so it's very likely that if a shark bites you, it won't go back for seconds. They just give you an initial bite because they're confused. It's even less likely that the shark will actually try to eat you, which is why most deaths from shark attacks happen back on shore or in the hospital. 

  • It'll All Start With A Little Nudge
    Photo: Leszek.Leszczynski / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    It'll All Start With A Little Nudge

    Before a shark bites, it tends to check out what exactly it's biting first. So, if you're on a surf board, you might feel a little bump from their nose. If you're swimming, you might feel something brush up against your legs. In some cases, it feels more like a sudden impact, even if there's no initial bite, sometimes hard enough to knock you off a surfboard. While one nudge might not signify danger, secondary bumps could spell trouble.

  • When You Start Bleeding, They'll Start Sniffing
    Photo: GregTheBusker / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    When You Start Bleeding, They'll Start Sniffing

    So, if you're not a shark's ideal prey, why are they targeting you exactly? It's a common myth that a shark can smell one drop of blood from miles away, but it is a fact that blood drives these guys nuts. If they're hungry, even a little blood in their near vicinity can attract them, because it indicates that there may be a wounded or dead animal in the water.

  • They Might Just Be Trying To Show You Who's Boss
    Photo: vic.bergmann / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    They Might Just Be Trying To Show You Who's Boss

    Some scientists believe that sharks will gently bite other animals as a show of dominance, rather than trying to eat them. In other words, the shark perceives you as a threat or as another shark trying to cut in on its turf, and is trying to tell you to get lost. Those kinds of bites aren't even really meant to kill, just to let you know they're there. Unfortunately for us, sharks have giant scary many-toothed mouths, and even a little bite can do some serious damage. 

  • You Won't See It Coming, But Others Probably Will
    Photo: Walt Stoneburner / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    You Won't See It Coming, But Others Probably Will

    According to several people who have been bitten by sharks, they never knew there was a shark near them until they were being attacked. One attack victim from 2015, Hunter Treschl, said it happened like this:

    I didn't see it coming. I was just in about waist-deep water, playing with my cousin... and felt this kind of hit on my left leg... like it was a big fish coming near you or something. Then it just kind of hit my arm. That was the first I saw it, when it was biting up my left arm.

    He lost his arm in the attack. However, sharks that can kill tend to be pretty large. This means that those far away from you might see a shape in the water way before you do. 

  • You'll Feel Like You've Been Hit By A Truck
    Photo: Rome Romz / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    You'll Feel Like You've Been Hit By A Truck

    A shark that's big enough to probably kill you is going to be moving pretty fast when it bites you. In fact, one thing it will do is throw its body weight at you, both to stun and confuse you and also to sink its teeth in better. One swimmer in South Maui who was bitten by a shark in 2016 talked about the experience to the people trying to help him:

    "He said, 'It felt like a boat hit me. He was really a trooper. He wasn't screaming," reported TJ McGuire, one of the first responders after the attack.

    In other words, prepare to be in pain, confused, and unsure of what just hit you.