Contrary to what you might think after watching the fourth sequel to Jaws, shark attacks are very rare. In the entire 20th Century, there were only 108 unprovoked shark attacks on the Pacific Coast. Several of them were attacks on boats, including five on kayaks. We doubt most people take out boat insurance on their kayaks, but if you’re going paddling with the sharks, it might not be a bad idea.
Most kayaks are between nine and fourteen feet long. Ocean kayakers tend to favor the longer boats, as they offer more stability. Smaller kayaks are favored by river paddlers for their increased mobility and maneuverability.
Generally speaking, shark attacks on kayaks don’t end up with anyone getting seriously hurt. Make no mistake, that doesn’t make them any less scary. Even if you do carry boat insurance on your kayak, it’s probably the last thing on your mind when you know you have a shark in the water that’s potentially bigger than you and your kayak combined.
As most people know, sharks don’t eat kayaks. They just don’t taste very good. In general, sharks don’t even eat human beings. We just don’t have enough meat on our bones to make a worthwhile meal for the average shark which happens to be big enough to eat us. They much prefer seals.
Still, from thirty feet below the water, a surfboard or a kayak can look an awful lot like a seal, especially to a creature which arguably isn’t the brightest fish in the ocean to begin with. Generally, attacks on boats of any kind are by Great Whites. Most other sharks simply aren’t large enough to mess with something that big.
Of course, Mako sharks have been known to attack boats occasionally as well. As the world’s fastest shark, and one which attacks from behind, you’re in a bad situation if a Mako takes undue interest in your kayak. He can swim 50 miles per hour, and you’re definitely not going to be able to out paddle him.
Unlike the Mako, Great Whites are ambush predators. They generally strike from 30 feet or more below the surface, in a burst of speed so intense they have been known to completely leave the water while attacking. Fortunately, Great Whites are also finicky eaters and usually won’t return for a second bite if they didn’t like the first one. So, if you have a Great White following you, as intense as it can be, you probably don’t need to worry. At least until he dives, that is.
If you find yourself the unlikely and unlucky victim of a shark attack while kayaking, try to hold on to your paddle. It can be used to jab the shark on the snout, which is the best way to discourage it from seeing if the kayaker tastes any better than his boat.
Photo via Ray Devlin