A Closer Look At How Science Is Trying To Protect Surfers and Divers From Shark Attacks

05.17.17 7 months ago 2 Comments

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Two years ago, professional surfer Mick Fanning was assaulted by a shark on live television in the middle of an international contest. Onlookers at South Africa’s Jefferies Bay, fellow competitors, and surf fans watching from home were all shocked as Fanning struggled to dodge, distract, and punch the apex predator. Though he emerged from the incident a physically unharmed, shark punching, aqua-hero, the rest of the world was, for lack of a better word, shook.

Despite being highly publicized; shark attacks are remarkably uncommon. According to the Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack File (the longest running database on shark attacks), between 2011 and 2015, there were an average of 82 unprovoked shark attacks annually. But the numbers are irrelevant because fear is often irrational and, frankly, sharks are scary as hell.

This helps explain why researchers and scientists have spent decades applying science and technology to the ever noble pursuit of developing a shark repellent. And why surfers, divers, ocean swimmers, and regular old dopes are turning to this new technology after Fanning’s incident and others like it.

There are a few categories of technology that scientists and engineers have developed under the umbrella of shark repellents. They more or less include magnetic wearables, surf wax, shark spray, and wetsuit technology. How effective are these innovations?

Let’s explore:

Magnetic Anklet/Bracelet

We're out the on the ocean doing some R&D today! #whatsnext #evolve #staytuned

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Sharkbanz takes advantage of a shark’s keen sensitivity to electrical fields. The wearable technology creates an electromagnetic field that “provides a sudden sensation that is thousands of times stronger than the signal produced by anything in a shark’s normal food chain.”

According to Sharkbanz, it is the equivalent to being flashed with a bright light in a dark room. The anklet/bracelet retails for $69.00

The company relies on relationships with Dr. Eric Stroud and Dr. Patrick Rice of Shark Defense Technologies LLC, where Grade C8 Barium Ferrite (BaFe2O4) permanent magnet repellent testing for Sharkbanz was developed. But there are problems. First, this technology is selective — it only applies to shark species with the Ampullae of Lorenzini organ. Second, the detective range of the Ampullae of Lorenzini organ is effective only within inches because other animals’ electrical impulses are weak. We’re talking inches, at the most.

This means, if you’re wearing Sharkbanz on your wrist, a shark has to get really freaking close to detect your magnetic field. By that point it may be too late. It also doesn’t instill much confidence that Sharkbanz urges users to wear a couple of their devices because, “the electromagnetic field generated by one Sharkbanz does not act as a full-body force field.”

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