If you’ve ever seen the critically acclaimed 1975 film, “JAWS,” you’ve probably asked yourself about the validity of large sea creatures attacking your boat.
It is common for people to fear open water and the animals that lurk beneath, but how common is it for an animal to attack your boat?
Here’s a Rundown on Animals Attacking Boats:
There are reported attacks on boats by animals each year in the United States; however, not all attacks are intentional. It is known that fish often jump out of the water and hit fishermen without meaning to; however, some predators do choose to attack a boat if they feel threatened.
It is unlikely that an animal is trying to eat you; they are more likely curious or feel threatened somehow. If you aren’t encroaching on their territory, they will most likely leave you alone.
That being said, we’ve gathered data on many predators in the wild that may attack a boat for one reason or another:
Whales are a lot like human beings because they are intelligent and must learn as they grow. Just like human beings, they pick up on wisdom and knowledge over years of trial and error and teaching from their elders.
When we hear about the rare whale “attack” on the news these days, it’s typically not so aggressive as we might initially believe.
More often than not, the whale in question was a juvenile and misjudged the distance while breaching the surface.
Even when they are juveniles, whales are huge, so an accidental bump can – and does – sink ships. This is also one reason why many whales are heavily scarred by the time they reach adulthood. Bumping up against a ship causes juvenile whales injuries, the same as any other living creature.
They aren’t armored, after all, and screws or propellers can injure the whale. After a whale “attack,” it is common to find pieces of blubber and skin floating to the surface or even adhering to the ship.
Now and then, there are rare instances when a whale will attack.
Like any human being, if a whale is harassed for too long, it may retaliate against a pest. It’s best to allow whales a safe distance and treat them with respect. Although normally docile, they are capable of losing their tempers just like any other intelligent creature.
Whales are intelligent mammals known to recognize humans that they’ve met before, understand how to trail a fishing boat to collect scraps and leftovers, and even sometimes steal a catch from a fisherman.
Whales are playful by nature, and they have been known to follow humans along on tours and trips to play in the wake of their boats.
However, a whale doesn’t recognize how large it is in relation to a person or their watercraft.
If the whale were to accidentally run into a boat, breach (or jump out of the water) on top of it, or even play tug-of-war on the anchor, it can cause damage to a boat and sometimes even to the people on board without the whale meaning to do so.
However, whales have not been known to maliciously attack a boat unless it is to steal fish from a fisherman.
Sharks explore their environment through their sense of touch and smell… and they do not have hands. When a shark is curious, they can only bite an object to satiate their curiosity.
There are two reasons why a shark may bite a boat: Curiosity or confusion.
Sharks have no interest in seeking us out as a food source. However, if they are chasing a school of fish and that school goes right by your boat, they could wind up “attacking” your boat to catch the fish.
Sharks often mistake humans for food or are curious about our activity; this accounts for most attacks.
In fact, there are a few studies claiming that, from a shark’s point of view, humans often resemble sea lions or other prey. This could account for a large portion of shark attacks on humans.
There are over three hundred species of sharks. Out of those three-hundred species, only twelve or so have been involved in shark attacks against humans. They are opportunistic feeders, meaning that their feeding behaviors are driven by circumstance.
They can survive on just about any available source of meat, and they take advantage of whatever is in the vicinity. They typically will only go for the “low-hanging fruit,” those creatures that are small and easier to take down than them, but there have been known attacks on horses and larger animals in coastal waters or river inlets.
Contrary to popular belief, some sharks can travel upriver and be found fairly far inland.
Can Sharks Jump Into Boats?
However, a shark would usually have to be lured to the boat first. They don’t make a habit of swimming up to a boat and jumping aboard.
They are more likely focused on chasing something and end up landing in the boat.
A few ways people have inadvertently welcomed a stowaway shark is:
- Placing lures out to catch other fish
- Inadvertently hooking a shark
- Using a small boat
If a shark looks up and sees a massive twelve-foot silhouette, they’re not going to bother going after that prey.
It’s outside of their weight class, so they’ll move on. But if they see a smaller boat’s silhouette and it seems like manageable prey to them, they might very well attack.
For this reason, larger boats have less to fear from shark attacks than small fishing boats.
A shark isn’t usually going to leap out of the water for no reason, though. Typically, when they do jump, they are in pursuit of prey. If you’ve hooked a fish that the shark is chasing, then the momentum of the chase will lead to the shark launching out of the water and onto your boat.
Sharks can travel up to twenty-five miles per hour, and they’ve cleared a four-foot hull before.
Sometimes, while fishing for other marine life, you may wind up snaring a shark. Depending on what kind of fishing you are doing, you could wind up landing a large shark. This is more common than most people think!
Once, orcas cohabitated with human fishermen in the Bering Sea without mishap; they now shake down the lines for their meals.
Orcas are brilliant animals and exhibit highly social and coordinated behavior.
They’ve even been known to attack great white sharks, dragging them down to the depths and holding them upside down to drown them!
It is not uncommon for a large pod of even forty orcas to swarm a fishing boat, ready to strip it of its cargo.
Why is this Happening?
Well, there was a time when whaling was legal.
As the orca population declined at a rapid pace due to over-harvesting of the pods, the orcas became wary of the boats. When they heard an engine, they would flee from the noise in the act of self-preservation.
Then we outlawed commercial whaling. As the orca population bounced back, their fear of boat engines receded, and, being some of the most intelligent marine life in all the seven seas, they quickly realized that these previous threats were now a meal opportunity.
What’s more, they teach the juveniles in their pods how to get their meals from these fishing boats.
Orcas are the ultimate pirate in the ocean these days, attacking fishing nets and stealing the bounty right out from under a fisherman’s nose.
This could be considered attacking a boat, but the whale does not intend to harm or injure the watercraft. Instead, they see large amounts of fish all in one pre-packaged container, and they try to get in on the action. Furthermore, Orcas have been known to really like humans.
Like dolphins, Orcas are interested in the way that people operate out of sheer curiosity and often will come up to recreational watercraft or kayakers to say hello!
This can be dangerous, though, as orcas are incredibly large compared to a kayak or even a personal watercraft.
So while orcas are not going to try and eat a human for breakfast – we aren’t in their diet – they are more likely going to tip you over or crash into you accidentally.
Hippos will fight you. They may look a little funny (especially with their mouths open), but they are highly territorial and especially strong!
They can be up to seventeen feet long and weigh as much as eight-thousand pounds. In Africa, an average of five-hundred people a year lose their lives to the hippopotamus.
According to National Geographic, hippos are one of the most aggressive mammals in Africa, beating other animals like lions, hyenas, and even baboons in levels of aggression.
These animals are incredibly territorial and more likely to attack a boat out of aggression than any other animal on this list.
Hippos are large with tough hides, strong jaws, and big teeth. This means that they have been known to scare off crocodiles, and they can do a lot of damage to a boat or person.
Stay Away from Hippos:
If you see them, they see you, and they are fast.
It’s best to give hippos so wide a berth that neither of you knows the other is there.
Respect their space, especially if there are young ones nearby.
The mothers can be particularly protective.
In fact, it’s best to think of hippos as water-dwelling grizzly bears. Their default setting is to charge at anything that is in their territory.
If you know there’s going to be hippos where you’re going, here are some great tips on staying safe:
- Please give them a wide berth.
If their mouths open and they give out a little grunt, that’s not a yawn. They will attack directly after. This is their warning to you that you are getting too close.
- Don’t get between them and the water.
If you encounter a hippo on dry land, where they come out to eat, then make sure you do not position yourself between them and the water. They can’t see well, and they will instinctively run back to the water if they are startled. They are fast runners and outstrip humans with ease. You will likely be trampled to death.
- When passing hippos, bang on your boat.
This might seem silly, but hippos hate vibrations. It won’t protect you by itself, but it alerts the hippos that you are there and prevents them from coming up from the water underneath you. If nothing else, it helps to make sure they don’t capsize your boat by accident.
5) Giant Squids
Look up “giant squid” on Google images, and you’re going to find that 99% of the images feature massive ships from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The ship is usually on turbulent waters with a black sky bearing down on the scene and a squid, the size of Hawaii, reaching out its enormous arms to wrap around the hull, intending to drag it into the ominous depths.
The largest squid species live so far beneath the waters and so far away from the human population that they would pose no threat even if they were aggressive.
There is nothing to corroborate these stories using today’s technology. Are there giant squids in the depths of our oceans?
Absolutely, but are they several times the size of a human being? Rarely.
In fact, giant squids are usually right around the size of a human, sometimes a little longer and other times a little smaller. (Unless you’re counting tentacle length, then they are much larger than humans. But I am only considering mantle length.)
The Mesonychoteuthis species’ mantle length far outstrips humans, but they live 1000 meters under the sea in a remote habitat off Antarctica’s coast. They are not considered a threat to humans.
There are no recorded instances of a squid taking down a boat or ship. There are loads of stories where they seem to try, of course. Scientists are skeptical that squids are attacking ships when they attach themselves to the hull, however, because their diets consist mostly (if not exclusively) of fish.
It makes little sense that they would try to fell prey several times larger than themselves. When squids do attach to the hull of a ship, they often wind up sliding into the propellers of the ship and dying.
Boats are more a hazard to squid than squid is to boats.
Alligators get a bad rap, but it’s probably because they are lumped in with crocodiles all the time.
Alligators don’t see humans as a food source due to the size of adult human beings.
A small alligator, which is an alligator less than five feet long, will usually only eat small snakes and turtles. They want something that they can eat in one bite that won’t fight back.
As soon as something fights back, the alligator usually considers the meal too much work and will swim away. They’re a little lazy. They won’t typically attack boats.
In fact, several people share stories about regularly kayaking or canoeing through alligator-infested waters without incident.
The only time you really need to be concerned about alligators is during mating or nesting season. During the mating season, you can hear the males “bellowing” or grouping together for “alligator dances.”
If you observe mating or nesting behavior, be cautious.
Mother alligators, like most mothers in the animal kingdom, become aggressive when perceived predators grow too close to their young and will defend them if provoked.
Can Alligators Jump Into Boats?
Alligators can leap up to six feet out of the water, using their powerful tails as propellers.
They typically launch out of the water to capture prey, such as birds or other above-water animals.
It is not normal behavior for an alligator to swim up to your boat or approach humans, though. If one approaches you, it could mean that they are accustomed to humans feeding them. Err on the side of caution, though, because any behavior that is not defensive behavior should be considered dangerous.
One event on record where an alligator leaped into a boat was brought on by a Yorkie. Small breeds of dogs like teacup Yorkies and chihuahuas look like easy prey to an alligator.
When this alligator saw a human paddling along with their pet dog, the alligator lunged for the small pet dog despite the presence of a human.
Moral of the story?
If you’re going to go kayaking in the bayou, don’t bring ‘gator bait!
Crocodiles, in general, are more aggressive than alligators.
Where an alligator will slip into the water and head for the bottom to avoid humans, some species of crocodile will charge your boat.
It is much more common for crocodile attacks to happen in places like Africa and Australia than in the United States.
There are only four species of crocodiles in the Americas, and the most widespread is the “American Crocodile.”
However, the Nile and saltwater crocodiles, found in Africa, Australia, and even in Asia, are known to be the most aggressive and are responsible for the most attacks on humans.
Crocs are “opportunistic” hunters, which means that they will eat what they can get their jaws on.
However, it also means that they are less likely to expend energy on something that isn’t worth their time – namely, a boat. While there are numerous crocodile attack reports in places like Queensland, Australia, in parks, or wild trials in West Africa each year, only crocs that reach a size of upwards of seven (7) feet will fatally injure a human.
This is because animals don’t usually try to eat something bigger than them. They will opt for easier, smaller prey.
However, any sized crocodile can take a quick bite out of a person if they feel that they are threatened, and that can have terrible consequences.
When crocodiles are cut open, it is not unusual to find bracelets, rings, and even flesh-covered human limbs.
However, much like their cousins (the alligators), crocodiles must grow to a certain size before they see full-grown humans as a potential meal.
Nonetheless, even a non-lethal alligator or crocodile bite will typically require hospitalization.
It is far less likely that you are going to run into a bear out on the water, but on riverbanks and shorelines in areas where bears are common, it is possible.
This means you need to be very wary of what time of year you go fishing and where you do it.
Bears are apex predators and can be aggressive, particularly when cubs are present. No matter how cute they may be, it is best to avoid them at all costs.
Bear migration patterns make them very territorial at certain times of the year, during fish migrations mainly, and while they are fattening up for winter or giving birth to cubs.
Their range is vast, and they show up unexpectedly.
If you think you are in danger of running into a bear on a riverbank or shore, consider moving to a new spot.
How Often do Animals Attack Boats?
Animals are more reactive rather than aggressive.
At the end of the day, you are more likely to get attacked by an animal on your boat if you have accidentally threatened or frightened that animal.
If you happen to come across a curious shark, maybe your boat will suffer a nibble or two. If you are boating in a hippo’s territory, you are far more likely to get attacked or run off.
The average boater is most likely never going to be outright attacked by an animal on the water.
Stay informed and respectful of the animals you see in the wild, and you will be fine.
So, there you have it! Hopefully, this list has put you more at ease. At the very least, I hope it’s given you some idea of how to prepare yourself for the water.
Remember that animals aren’t usually out to attack humans. More often than not, they don’t even view you as a food source. (Unless they’re a large alligator or crocodile.)
In many cases, when we hear of an animal attacking a boat, the animal is defending its home from a perceived threat. They typically want to (and will) avoid contact with humans unless they see you as a threat.
In swamplands and other low-lying bodies of water, remember to avoid water-based adventures in the spring when possible. This is the mating season for many animals, and their tempers tend to run a bit hotter than usual.
Good luck with your future adventures on the water, and be safe out there!
Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.