How to Investigate Shark Attacks

cropped-ss-2.jpgThe Shark Attack Investigators Handbook

This handbook is developed for use by investigators for the New Jersey/New York Shark Attack File. With minor modifications it can prove useful for investigators in other parts of the world.

Shark attacks need to be studied to help in preventing further attacks. By learning to prevent attacks, mankind can better live with these large predators of the oceans. In order for scientists to study each attack, detailed information must be collected at the incident site.

It is the role of the Shark Attack Investigator to gather this information. It is important that investigators gather proper information that will be useful for professional researchers. Evidence must be collected following scientific method and following forensic biological methodologies.

Field Investigators need formal training in marine biology, fisheries biology, field biology, oceanography, or forensic biology. Investigators must be skilled at collecting impartial data and following scientific method at all times.

Field Investigators need to be trained in the proper forensic collection and preservation of biological evidence.

Field investigators need good communicative and interviewing skills.
Investigators must be discrete and protect the victim and their families from embarrassment or undue stress.

Shark Investigator’s Field Equipment

Waterproof Bag to carry field gear. It should be of a size to fit your notebook, GPS, pencils, camera, recorders, and identification guides.

Plastic Tub to carry field gear. The remaining field gear should be placed in a plastic tub and carried in your vehicle.

Waterproof Notebooks such as the Rite in the Rain brand or something similar. Notebooks should be bound. The Rite in the Rain environmental or general field notebooks work well.

Pencils such as the Rite in the Rain brand field types work well.
30-50’ Tape Measure of any type as long as it is waterproof and salt resistant.

Meter Stick and Metric Ruler should be carried for smaller measurements.
Camera and Video Recorder of any quality brand that is waterproof or resistant.

Audio Recorder for documenting interviews.

GPS such as the Garmin hand held varieties.

Plastic Zip Lock Bags of Assorted Sizes for collecting evidence.

Impression Clay can be used to identify the shark. By pressing impression clay into tooth marks on surfboards or boats you can often get an impression of the shark tooth.

Magnifying Loupe for examining evidence such as bite marks and impressions left in clay.

Foul Weather Gear and Boots are needed. Any marine quality brand such as Helly Hansen or Chemtex work well. The gear should include hooded jacket, pants, and boots, Life Jacket for work on docks and boats.

Mask, Snorkel, fins, and wet-suit should be in your tub in case you need to take a quick look underwater. It is not necessary to carry SCUBA gear as diving should only be done as a team effort when needed.

Utility Knife of any type. Sailing knives or dive knives work well.

Business Cards to give to witnesses and victims. Be sure they are able to contact you if they think of any additional details relevant to the attack.

Portable Marine Radio to monitor transmissions, keep track of weather, and call for help if needed.

Forceps for evidence collection

Rubber Gloves for evidence collection

Waterproof flashlight

Cell Phone

Shark Identification Guides such as The Sharks of North American Waters by Castro, Sharks of North America by Castro, Sharks of the World by Compagno, and Angler’s Guide Sharks of the Northeastern United States by NMFS are well suited for the investigator.

Tablet or Laptop for data collection.

Length of String or Rope. Different lengths are good such as a pre-cut 10 meter, 50 meter, and 100 meter lengths.

Salinity Meter to take samples of the attack area ASAP after the incident.

Floating & Sinking Thermometers for surface and subsurface temperatures ASAP after the incident.

First Aid Kit. Carry a small trauma kit. Even though the victim of the attack will have received treatment other types of injuries may occur. Also remember there is a dangerous shark in the area and another attack is possible so be prepared.

On Notification of an Attack

Get as many details as you can.

Obtain directions to attack location.

Gather your field equipment.

Notify others of you plans.

On Arrival at the Scene

Access the situation for safety.

Gather facts: who, when, when, where, why, how.

Photograph the area and all evidence.

Collect evidence for impressions.

Interview witnesses.

Interview first responders

Interview victim if possible.

Take copious notes, never rely on memory.

Test for temperature of surface water and subsurface waters.

Test salinity.

Record weather conditions.

Record surf and current conditions.

Record turbidity.

After the Field Investigation

Review notes.

Make follow up visits and calls.

Download photos and videos.

Review audio interviews.

Review weather conditions for the time and location of attack.

Note the tide and marine conditions at the time of the attack.

Review fishing reports to determine species in the area.

Write and file a detailed report.

Report Format

A separate report and incident number is required for each victim if more than one.

Incident Number



Victim’s Name

Victim’s Age

Type of Activity such as swimming, fishing, clamming, boating, or wading.

Type and extent of injuries.

Narrative of the attack

Number of sharks involved in incident

Species of sharks if known

Weather conditions

Water Conditions- Tide, currents, surface temperature, subsurface temperature, salinity, and turbidity.

Special conditions such as fishing in the area or bait fish present.
Victim’s Account if possible.

Witness statements.

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