I am planning to visit Sierra Leone. I have seen some pictures and the beaches are awesome. They have beautiful and appealing islands for diving and snorkeling.

Is there a serious threat of shark attacks in those waters? Are there any documented cases of such attacks? Is it advisable to dive/snorkel in that region of the world?


Is it advisable to dive/snorkel in that region of the world?

There is some recreational diving and snorkelling in Sierra Leone, but not much. As well as challenges related to the economic situation and low tourism, the water visibility is usually pretty bad (this is true for most of the West African coast), and the currents are complicated and strong - following local guidance is essential, including when to go (around half-moon). That said, there are corals, tropical fish aplenty and wrecks from a number of historical eras.

There's a basic dive centre, Banana Divers based at Dalton's guest house, which also has a water activities centre including diving, snorkelling, fishing, free-diving and water-skiing. It's on Banana Island just off the southern tip of the western peninsula. It's run by a PADI-qualified scuba divemaster and keen spearfisher known locally as "Greg the Greek", who knows many interesting spots for diving and snorkeling around these islands. There used to also be a dive centre at Franco's just outside of Freetown, and a diving school called Salone Scuba, but both have closed down (though I've heard rumours that Franco's might start doing dives again some time soon).

One good thing about diving here is, everything's very shallow (most dives are 10-15 meters). This combined with the warm water (many don't even bother to wear wetsuits) means it's easy to have a good long dive, and on a good day for visibility much of the stuff (corals, fish, even some wrecks) is even visible by snorkelling. There are several wrecks that can be seen in the area, including some modern container ships that can be seen very easily, plus at least one 17th Century Dutch galleon off the north side of Banana Island, but difficult currents mean that one is for advanced divers only. There are also some spots that are sheltered by the island and have (by West African standards) excellent visibility, like 10 meters or so (which of course would be considered a bad day somewhere like Thailand, South Pacific or South Africa, but is easily enough for a comfortable dive or snorkel and to see plenty of things).

Banana Divers was briefly for qualified / experienced divers only, but in 2017 Greg has resumed doing "PADI discover" taster dives suitable for people who've never dived before. The equipment used to be a bit ropey, in a condition suitable mainly for experienced divers who know which types of minor leak aren't cause for concern, but he seems to have had it fixed. There are also several beginner-friendly spots with no currents.

Is there a serious threat of shark attacks in those waters?

The risk of sharks is even less of a consideration than other places. The deeper waters off West Africa are notorious for unregulated fishing, and the shark populations are dwindling. There's also a big shallow shelf that isn't ideal for sharks.

Barracuda and trigger fish are pretty common, but (unlike trigger fish in some other parts of the world) if you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone. Shark encounters are almost unheard-of.

The real risks:

  • Rip currents still kill multiple foreigners a year - but mostly from the beaches, particularly ill-judged night swims by revelers at beach parties. Be careful, don't swim alone, never swim while drunk, and if you do find yourself being swept out to sea, don't swim back into the current, stay calm, look out for rocks and swim to one side parallel to the shore, until you're out of the current, then swim back and take your time. Don't rush or tire yourself.
  • Diving or snorkelling will usually be from a boat (either a small speedboat from Greg's place, or some people organise trips on rented local fishing boats), and so the biggest immediate risks are:
    • Your boat captain falling asleep and not realising a current has taken you far (a loud whistle is a good idea! And at Greg's place they're very careful about avoiding things like this)
    • Getting hit by a fishing boat that isn't looking where it's going (make sure you're not somewhere boats go - local knowledge is essential)
    • A surprise current, undertow etc taking you into rocks or similar (again, get local advice on where to go and where not to go - and follow it!)
  • For scuba diving specifically, be aware that the closest pressure chamber is the opposite side of the continent. Not country, continent (and there are no direct flights either!). Don't dive deep enough that decompression sickness is a risk unless you know exactly what you're doing - but most of the diving here is very shallow anyway.

The beaches of Sierra Leone are perhaps the most beautiful beaches in the world. In case you were around in the 1980s and remember the Bounty (chocolate bar) commercials, featuring a gorgeous woman on an even more gorgeous beach, these commercials were shot in Sierra Leone.

I don't think diving or snorkelling is a big thing in Sierra Leone, but it's certainly possible, though you'll have a hard time finding a local outfit to accommodate you.

I lived in Sierra Leone from 2010 - 2012. Shark attacks were never considered an issue. To the extent that I don't remember once anyone ever mentioning sharks while I lived in Sierra Leone. I lived on the coast and regularly went to the beaches.

More serious danger, though, comes from the treatorous currents at some of the beaches. Several foreigners drowned at several occasions while I lived in Sierra Leone.

  • Thanks a lot for the information. I have lived in SL for a long time actually and you are right I have never heard about shark attacks. But maybe as @drat pointed out it could be due to the fact that many incidents go unreported! Some of the people there believe in witches and spirits and attribute most things to them instead... I guess this is the commercial you mean youtube.com/watch?v=l6-2NNNRkD0 – hat Apr 10 '14 at 15:07
  • Awesome find. I suppose that must have been the commercial, yeah (though I only recognized the ending, with the beach :). You're right about folklore and beliefs, but, still, I doubt that's the case in relation to shark attacks. If there were a reasonable threat of sharks, somehow, the expat community would have picked up on it, I think. Or at least the Lebanese community would have been aware of it. – MastaBaba Apr 11 '14 at 3:22
  • 2
    Incidents of shark attacks are usually hyped up to a point that doesn't relate to the real danger. They also make for a good story. I think it's pretty unlikely that a shark attack will go unreported. Please be aware that unprovoked shark attacks happen very (!) rarely (less than 3,000 cases since 1580 flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/statistics/GAttack/World.htm) – Stockfisch Apr 11 '14 at 20:17

Speaking from the available data only and not from first-hand experience, it seems that Sierra Leone is pretty safe when it comes to shark attacks. Sources often cite only a few attacks ever recorded (For instance here or here) mostly lying more than 100 years back.

There seems to have been one incident in 2006, killing 4 fishermen. I am not sure if that was an unprovoked attack.

Also I am not sure if the small amount of attacks is due to the fact that cases don't get reported or that there really aren't any.


I am a little disturb about people's fear of shark attacks. Your odds of being harassed by a shark is something like 1 in 3,748,067 (+/- 0.0000267%) and to be killed by a shark is roughly 1 in 89,953,608 (+/- 0.00000111%)


In period from 1580 to 2014 the Confirmed Unprovoked Shark Attacks is 2,777 world wide.

Also see what other risks you should worry about: https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/attacks/relarisklifetime.html

In 2014 there were 118 shark incidents reported of which 10 were fatalities. After investigation it was found only 72 incidents were actually unprovoked shark incidents of which 3 were fatalities. http://sharkattackfile.info/SAS_Summary/2014.asp

And then in case you can not click on links: https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/statistics/gattack/MapAfric.htm According to this in the period 1828-2014 Sierra Leone had 1 shark incident

  • this information is about shark attacks in general and not specific to Sierra Leone at all. As such it would probably be better as a comment on the question, not an answer. – Kate Gregory Feb 17 '15 at 14:35
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. – neubert Feb 17 '15 at 14:52
  • @neubert actually it does. If you read the odds of being attacked by a shark anywhere in the world it means those are worst odds even in Sierra Leone and if you followed the links you would see that Sierra Leone has very few shark attacks. – AquaAlex Feb 19 '15 at 8:49
  • Perhaps the reason there's only 1 reported shark attack in Sierra Leone is because nobody goes diving due to the risk of sharks? – Doc Jun 3 '16 at 4:59
  • @Doc if that was the case nobody would be scuba diving or swimming or surfing in Cape Town, South Africa. But we have a thriving Scuba Diving, Swimming, Kayaking, Surfing, Kite Surfing ... industry here. – AquaAlex Jun 3 '16 at 10:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.