From bears to sharks to killer whales, here's what to do when you're up against these apex predators (2023)

  • Animal attacks on humans, such as bears or sharks, are relatively rare.
  • But experts recommend certain actions depending on which predator you encounter.
  • Here's what to do if you encounter a bear, shark, killer whale or other potentially dangerous mammal.

Top editors give you the stories you want - delivered straight to your inbox every weekday.

Thanks for signing up!

Access your favorite topics in a personalized feed on the go.

Despite the great fear - and movies that suggest otherwise - the risk of being attacked by a bear or shark remains incredibly low.

However, insidegreat white sharksreturn to Southern California andGrizzly theirthat spans Montana, it's good to know what to do if you encounter potentially dangerous animals outdoors or in the ocean.

Wildlife officials have specific recommendations for the best course of action, but it depends on the animal. One thing you should always do, regardless of the animal, is keep your distance and don't approach or surprise it.

Here's what to do if you encounter one of these apex predators and how to avoid being attacked.

Grizzlies and black bears

From bears to sharks to killer whales, here's what to do when you're up against these apex predators (1)

REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

There are two types of bears you're likely to encounter while outdoors in North America, depending on where you are: grizzly bears and black bears. Black bears are particularly widespread, found in most US states, while grizzly bears are concentrated in Montana and Wyoming and throughout Alaska.

Walking in groups is one wayavoid encountering a bear, because the group is likely to be more noisy, allowing the bear to hear you coming instead of being caught off guard.

Regardless of the type of bear you encounter,National Park Servicehe says it's important to keep calm and remember that a bear rarely attacks.

You need to stand your ground, wave your arms and talk calmly to the bear, tell it to back off, to identify yourself as a human and not prey. Yelling or sudden movements can startle the bear.

You can move slowly and sideways, still facing the bear. Make sure you leave an escape route for the bear and avoid trapping it somewhere.

The park service says when a bear is standing, it's usually just curious, not aggressive.

A bear can bluff by attacking you and turning around at the last second. If that happens, the park service will tell you to stay put. If you havetheir spray, you should use it when the charging bear is 30 to 60 feet away and spray until it changes direction.

From bears to sharks to killer whales, here's what to do when you're up against these apex predators (2)

Getty Images

The park service is clear that you shouldn't run — bears can run faster than racehorses and tend to chase fleeing animals — and you shouldn't climb a tree, which grizzly bears and black bears can do, too.

Asbear attack, how you react depends on whether it's a grizzly bear or a black bear.

When a grizzly attacks, you should play dead. The park service says to lie on your stomach with your hands behind your neck, keeping your legs apart to make it more difficult for the bear to knock you over. Stay in this position until the bear leaves. If the bear continues to attack, you must fight back and punch the bear in the face.

When a black bear attacks, you shouldn't play dead. The park service tells you to try to find a safe place, such as a car or building. If this is not possible, you must fight back and aim for the bear's face and muzzle.

Regardless of the type of bear, the park service said that in the extremely rare instance of a bear attacking you in your tent or chasing you and then attacking you, it is a signal that the animal sees you as prey. You shouldn't play dead and fight back as hard as you can.


From bears to sharks to killer whales, here's what to do when you're up against these apex predators (3)

Carlos Grillo/Getty Images

Many swimmers find themselves in close proximity to sharks and never realize it, because sharks, like bears, rarely attack humans.

One way to avoid a potential shark attack is to avoid swimming alone in waters where sharks may be present, as sharks tend to avoid crowded beaches.

If you see a shark while in the ocean, researchers say you should keep an eye out for it. Eye contact lets the shark know you're seeing it and helps prevent the shark from mistaking you for prey, Marissa Wu at the Roundhouse Aquarium inSouthern CaliforniaInsider previously said.

Usually the shark is curious and will swim next to you after checking you out. You should watch for aggressive behavior, such as a shark swimming quickly towards or away from you. A shark that is just curious is likely to swim casually in a broad S-like pattern.

Keep an eye on the shark and calmly swim back to shore.

If the shark does attack, punch it in the eye or nose or, if possible, put your hands in its gills and pull hard. In most cases, the shark will break free and swim away, after which you should call for help and get back to the beach as quickly as possible.


From bears to sharks to killer whales, here's what to do when you're up against these apex predators (4)

Getty Images

Although known as "killer whales",energythey earned the name because of their fierce reputation for hunting other animals—not humans. However, if you encounter a killer whale, there are a few things you should do to avoid a dangerous encounter with the predator.

With killer whales recently attacking sailboats, a whale expert saidKhaleej timesyou shouldnever go into the water if you see an orca.

"Never swim with these animals, because they are much bigger than us, even with small dolphins," said Ada Natoli, a professor at Abu Dhabi's Zayed University and founder of the UAE Dolphin Project Initiative. "You can watch them from a kayak or paddle boat, but always don't swim with them."

Natoli also noted that there are no known cases of deadly orc attacks on humans, but recent skirmishes with ships have raised some concerns. If your boat encounters an orca, you should try to maintain a distance of at least 50 to 100 meters, or 164 to 328 feet, turn off the engine, or at least slow down.

He also said to avoid approaching orcs from behind or in front and to stay on their side. Orcas often approach ships out of curiosity, but he said it shouldn't be the other way around.

OfAtlantic Orca Advisory Group(GTOA), the Atlantic Orca Working Group, offers similar advice. They recommend backing away from the orca slowly if possible and remaining unobtrusive on deck to avoid drawing the orca's attention.

The GTOA also says to hold on to the boat while cruising around, just in case the killer whale collides with the boat.

Other large mammals that may seem harmless but can really hurt you

From bears to sharks to killer whales, here's what to do when you're up against these apex predators (5)

Zen Rial/Getty Images

Apex predators aren't the only animals that can attack humans.

Every year in Yellowstone National Park, tourists underestimate the dangers of bison, and every year some are attacked and gored. Bison have injured more people in Yellowstone, one of the country's most visited national parks, than any other animal, according toNational Park Service.

Although bison resemble large hairy cows, they can run three times faster than humans and are extremely agile, able to swim, turn quickly and jump fences.

Large mammals such as moose and moose are also extremely fast and can injure humans if frightened or provoked.

The Park Service recommends that visitors never approach wild animals and stay at least 25 meters or 75 feet away from such animals. They recommend staying 100 yards away from bears and wolves.

If a bison or moose attacks, the park service recommends running away from the animal immediately, which may be bluffing. Retreat to a vehicle or building or use bear spray.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Edwin Metz

Last Updated: 07/15/2023

Views: 5261

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (58 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Edwin Metz

Birthday: 1997-04-16

Address: 51593 Leanne Light, Kuphalmouth, DE 50012-5183

Phone: +639107620957

Job: Corporate Banking Technician

Hobby: Reading, scrapbook, role-playing games, Fishing, Fishing, Scuba diving, Beekeeping

Introduction: My name is Edwin Metz, I am a fair, energetic, helpful, brave, outstanding, nice, helpful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.