One of the most common questions asked to this author—and I assume to other former and current SEALs as well—involves shark attacks. People always want to know if Navy SEALs and Navy SEAL trainees are afraid of running into sharks during the countless hours we spend in the ocean.

The Reality of BUD/S Training

Truth be told, you hardly have time to think about sharks when you are in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training since you are usually more worried about passing a swim or dive evolution than you are about being eaten. Honestly, there were times when I actually wished a shark attack upon someone in the class (not me, of course) so that we could stop a certain swim or dive evolution prematurely. Yes, BUD/S can suck that much sometimes.

Operational Focus Over Fear

Even within the Navy SEAL Teams, the operational mindset takes precedence over any apprehensions about sharks. A Navy SEAL in the water is preoccupied with a multitude of critical tasks: managing gear, maintaining compass bearings, staying connected with teammates, ensuring stealth, and achieving mission objectives. Little mental capacity is left to dwell on the possibility of a shark encounter.

Statistical Unlikelihood of Shark Attacks

The statistics also back up the Navy SEALs’ confidence when it comes to shark encounters. Even with countless hours of training in the ocean, including those at San Clemente Island (a well-known seal habitat and potential shark feeding ground), there has never been a single recorded shark attack on a Navy SEAL trainee, not even in the course of thousands of BUD/S third phase swims executed there.

shark sighted sign
A sign warning about a shark sighting at Pyramid Rock Beach, Hawaii. (Image source: DVIDS)

A Rare and Tragic Incident

There’s no such thing as a 100% guarantee, and so there is that one time that a confirmed shark attack killed a Navy SEAL.

It was way back in 1963 and took place not during BUD/S in California or Virginia Beach (training used to be run on both coasts) but rather in the tropical paradise of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

A young lieutenant junior grade, who was assigned to an unspecified underwater demolition team (UDT), fell prey to a shark during a recreational swim.

To clarify, the UDTs were precursors to the Navy SEAL teams and, for a time, existed alongside them. A graduate of BUD/S would be assigned to either a UDT or SEAL team, interchangeably, throughout his career.