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Shark safety tips: How to stay safe in the water

Experts are trying to make sense of the spike... 02:47

As people head to the beach this summer, many can't help but worry about the threat of a shark attack. The risk is very small, but there have been at least nine shark attacks in the Carolinas in recent weeks, putting swimmers on alert.

According to The International Shark Attack File (ISAF), the longest-running database on shark attacks, the chances that a shark will attack you are one in 11.5 million. To put that into context, your chances of drowning are 1 in 3.5 million.

"Although the trends show shark bites are increasing in frequency, this is mostly due to more people using the oceans than ever before," Andrew Nosal, Ph.D., a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told CBS News. "Actually, 2014 was quieter than average with only 52 unprovoked bites in the USA, with none being fatal."

The reality is that sharks are always around humans in the ocean because that is where they live. But there are things you can do to avoid them.

The American Red Cross recently came out with a list of tips to minimize the risk of shark bites and close encounters. Click through to see what you should and shouldn't do...

Don't go it alone


Stay in a group when you are swimming in the ocean. Sharks are more likely to attack a solo person than a group.

"Shark attacks are believed to be almost always prey identification mistakes," Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association. told CBS News. A shark might accidentally bite a limb dangling in the water thinking it is a fish, their natural prey. A group of humans swimming in the water doesn't look like a solitary fish or marine mammal to a shark, so they might not bother with it.

Avoid swimming at dusk and dawn

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Sharks are the most active at dusk and dawn when they are hunting for food. You can reduce your risk of shark encounters by staying out of the water at these times of day. Sharks also don't have the best vision, so they will be more likely to confuse a human for its natural prey when visibility is low.

Blood in the water?

Mihajlo Maricic

Sharks have a legendary sense of smell. For some species a quarter of their brains are devoted to this one sense. Sharks are attracted to blood, although it is not clear if they are attracted to human blood. The American Red Cross advises against entering the water with an active, open wound.

But David Shiffman, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Miami who studies shark biology and conservation, says that if you have an open wound you should be more concerned about bacteria getting into it from the seawater than being bothered by a shark. Some people also advise menstruating women against going in the water. "I don't think it's significant, but if you're concerned, just spend your time sitting on the beach," Shiffman told CBS News.

Leave the bling behind


Take off all of your shiny jewelry before entering the water. Shiny objects can reflect light in the water, which looks like fish scales to a shark. "Sharks also see contrast well, so clothing with sharp contrast (lines and shapes) may attract unwanted attention," Nosal advised.

Steer clear of feeding time


Stay out of areas populated by fishermen using chum or baitfish because they attract sharks. Areas where sewage, runoff or rivers flow into the sea also attract baitfish. According to the American Red Cross, "diving sea birds are good indicators of these areas."

No splash zone


The American Red Cross advises you to avoid excess splashing and keep pets out of the water because their erratic movements may attract shark attention. "Splashing can confuse sharks into thinking that their prey are nearby," Brewster told CBS News. It can also make the water murkier, which makes it more difficult for sharks to distinguish people from prey.

Keep out of known shark hangouts

Jamie Hayes

Sharks tend to hang out in the area between sandbars or near steep drop-offs. Sharks living on the East Coast feast on prey that tends to be close to the shoreline. The Atlantic Ocean also has a broader continental shelf than the Pacific, an area that sharks tend to prefer.

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