In support of shark deterring technology

Shark attacks have been increasing in Australia in the last two decades, scientists put this down to more people in the water, which boosts the likelihood of encountering a shark.

Even though shark attacks are still extremely rare, something about their goriness plays at the forefront of my mind.

Avoiding the ocean is the most effective way to avoid shark attacks. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option for the many Australians who, like myself, have seawater running through their veins. A compromise must be reached.

Any measures taken to avoid shark attacks should a) actually work, and b) respect the right of all creatures to exist in their natural habitat. These aren’t ridiculous expectations, but most of our current interventions don’t measure up.

Culling sharks and netting beaches are ridiculously human-centred. There is no proof that they reduce shark attacks, they only give the illusion of safety.

Electronic shark deterrents are something I have always supported in theory, but never been sure about. That changed in July 2016 when I read about scientists testing one of these devices, and low and behold it worked! The Freedom7 is available from Shark ShieldTM and costs a whopping $749.

No it doesn’t electrocute the sharks

The device is an electro-transmitting antenna which attaches to your ankle on a 2.2 metre cord. The antenna sends out small electric fields into the water. Sharks have electrical receptors that pick up signals from the water. The deterrent works by overloading these receptors, causing some discomfort. But don’t feel too bad, the sharks can avoid this by swimming away (from the device and you).

The scientists put the Freedom7 next to some delicious tuna chunks, and found that inquisitive sharks held back, keeping an average distance of 1.3 meters. Hold on, that means that the device is longer than the deterrent field. Here’s a helpful diagram:

A man wearing a Shark Shield™, showing the estimated deterrent thresholds for Great White Sharks. (From the paper:

I don’t know about you but I would really appreciate my head being inside that bubble.

Shark Shield are on the right track. But why haven’t they altered their device since this research came out last year? It’s not like they aren’t aware of this shortcoming, this image comes straight from their website.

Not only is this image concerning, the numbers don’t make sense. (From:

A safe ocean for humans and sharks

These results are promising, and a step towards co-existing with sharks. If you’re worried about shark attacks, here are five things you can do right now:

  1. Contact Shark Shield and ask them why they haven’t shortened the cord.
  2. Buy one, and loop the end of the cord back on itself.
  3. Demand that local governments take down shark nets that kill so many creatures unnecessarily, costing millions to maintain.
  4. Support your local governments to install and monitor less murderous alternatives.
  5. Remember you are 228 times more likely to drown at the beach than be involved in a fatal shark attack. If you want to invest in something, consider donating money to your local surf lifesavers, who are often first responders in shark attacks and drownings.
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