Is it too soon to joke about Mick Fanning’s attack in South Africa?
It seemed like for days the WSL was experiencing a series of emotional interventions with tear stricken surfers dominating the airwaves following Mick’s near miss with a great white shark. As surfers, we have to understand that each time we paddle out, we are entering a different domain.
While David Attenborough might argue that humans had an amphibious stage in their evolution, we can’t deny there are creatures out there far better suited to the ocean than us. The clumsiest pelican out there surfs better than Kelly Slater and don’t mention the breath-hold of the most accomplished free-diver in comparison to our aquatic cousins.
Unfortunately, some of the world’s best surf destinations are conveniently situated in some of the sharkiest waters in the world.
- So can ignorance indeed be bliss?
- Or is it time to start taking shark repellent seriously?
Beside shark’s relative absence in the line-up, there is an abundance of shark deterrent products on the market hoping to keep sharks at bay, or at least out of the channel.
Shark deterrents range from:
- Electric emitters.
- Magnetic shark blockers.
- Biomimicry stickers and wetsuits.
- Acoustic-based shark repellents.
- Simple sprays.
They may be as simple as an augmented leash plug or coloured wetsuit to sophisticated electrical devices. But many shark deterrent or repellent products still have yet to stand the test of time, and there is still doubt about their effectiveness.
We are seeing a rise in shark attacks globally, everywhere from the U.S. to Australia is experiencing a renaissance in shark attacks. A recent study found that from 1955 to 2015 the number of shark attacks rose by a great amount in the U.S. and the same is true for Australia which experienced an increase from 3 attacks in 1995 and 23 in 2015. Considering the population of Australia is over 24 million, your likelihood of being attacked is still 1:1 million. That being said, if you’re a regular surfer in sharky water, it’s really not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when!
We’ve dreamt of shark repellent since Sean Connery was James Bond. A convenient and straightforward solution to the nagging fear induced by films like Jaws and Deep Blue Sea. Who wouldn’t mind a little shark spray like Judy Hopps in Zootopia?
In this guide, we’ll explore the top shark deterrents/repellents on the market and see if they’re worth the cost of business.
More importantly; do they really work?
Keep reading to find the most effective shark repellents out there and see what you can do to keep yourself safer in the ocean.
1. Electric Shark Repellents:
Electric Shark repellents claim to use electrical signals in the water to interfere with sharks’ sensory input. More specifically, if a shark enters a certain radius of these electronic devices, sharks experience a sensory overload and are likely to head the other direction.
So are these devices beneficial?
Shark Shield is one of the many electronic shark repellents – or deterrents depending on who you’re talking to – on the market today. This product is unique in that they have been proven effective to hinder shark bites. Typically, this is a long cord that trails from the swimmer, diver, or surfer. This cord can be cumbersome and even dangerous on a surfboard, however, for approximately $800, you can have the shark shield installed inside your board.
Forget about your quiver, you’ll probably never ride another board again. The bad news is, Shark Shield isn’t 100% effective. Recent research out of Australia suggests that Shark Shield had near 85% effectiveness on Great Whites and Tiger Sharks. It seems that there are certain shark species, and even individuals, which have a higher tolerance for this form of electrical stimulation.
Nobody’s saying a great white is trolling the line-up looking for electric kick-backs, but some sharks won’t be scared off by this device. There have been reports of shark attacks on individuals while wearing shark shield.
More affordable than the Shark Shield above, NOShark goes for approximately $449 and comes in the form of an anklet device. Unfortunately, research has shown that tools like NoShark, while they do send out electrical current, do so with electrodes just a bit too close together offering less protection. While to you or I this may seem like a non-issue, in comparison to a device like Shark Shield, NoShark is considerably less effective. This is because electrodes emitted from the anklet device send currents with a shorter wavelength (or period for the amateur meteorologists in all of us). As a result, sharks are less likely to be shoo-ed away and might sneak up for a nibble.
At approximately $389, Surf Safe is an electric emitter similar to others referenced on this list. The most significant difference is surf safe, like the Shark Shield – Surf edition is mounted directly on your surfboard. Knee deep in research, Surf Safe boasts more than 1000 current surfers using their product across the globe. Surf Safe has proven successful in deterring sharks across a wide variety of company-sponsored research. However, it is still yet to experience external scrutiny.
But can these type of electrical emitters actually attract sharks?
Sharks use electrical currents to experience the world around them in the ocean. This is particularly true in their search for prey. Would strapping an electric emitter to your board, leash, or leg be more likely to inspire a quick visit from your local aquatic predator?
For many people interested in shark deterrent, this is a legitimate concern. Surfers have reported experiencing a more than a bit of push-back from other’s in the line-up mutually hoping to avoid a close encounter.
Research suggests that electrical emitters are not likely to attract passing sharks despite their extra-sensory electrical perceptions, especially from a long distance.
2. Magnetic Shark Repellents:
Aside from electrical shark repellents, there are a variety of different devices and tools available to swimmers, divers, and surfers which don’t utilise electrodes. Magnetic shark repellents are another standard option on the market for those hoping to steer clear of ocean predators.
Shark Banz is a budding brand on the market in the field of shark repellents. Their devices utilise a magnetic field via a wrist or ankle band which easily straps on with your typical watch band. SharkBanz is significantly more affordable than many electric devices and runs at approximately $84.
Shark Banz offers consumers more than 10 years of supporting research from users and scientists. These include peer-reviewed studies from outside researchers.
SharkBanz may be one of the more reliable shark deterrents on the market. Another great feature of SharkBanz products is they’re always on, and no charging is required. SharkBanz is the only shark deterrent which has withstood peer-reviewed research trials and come up successfully repelling shark attacks. To be a reliable shark repellent for an affordable price for those concerned surfers or divers.
3. Deceptive Colouring Shark Deterrent:
Deceptive colouring is an old tool in the animal kingdom from a tiger’s bold stripes to an Owl Moth’s false eye. Deceptive colouring mixes a combination of biomimicry and ingenuity to detract a shark’s attention. Keep reading to discover the plethora of ingenious shark deterrent systems you can find on the market.
SAMS – Shark Attack Mitigation System:
Aptly named the Shark Attack Mitigation System (SAMS), these wetsuits suggest a new and innovative method for deterring shark attacks. Since 2012, scientists, surfers, and researchers have been working on designing a wetsuit which used a combination of biomimicry and environmental camouflage to reduce the risk of shark attacks. This company has created two wetsuit designs meant to distinguish surfers from seals or sea lions.
Dive specific suits are designed using deceptive colouration, which is nearly invisible to a shark. While sharks utilise a variety of senses when stalking, hunting, and attacking their prey, scientists have recently discovered that a shark’s visual perceptions are more important than previously assumed, particularly when making an attack. Deceptive banding on the SAMS surf suit imitates the banding of the banded sea krait. The dive suits are explicitly designed to camouflage into the water and detract a shark’s attention. These have proven to be successful in research studies, even when wrapped around a bucket of chum!
In addition to SAMS’s shark deterrent wetsuits, SAMS releases a corresponding product for your surfboard. Similar to the banded wetsuit, the bottom of the board is banded with a thin sticker which alerts sharks that it’s looking at something fishy – in the metaphorical sense.
So simple, we can’t believe we didn’t think of it before, Shark Eyes is a new incredibly affordable shark deterrent system. This simple sticker can be slapped on to the bottom of your board, dive cage or kayak. Developed by Australian Abalone divers, who know a thing or two about sharks, Shark Eyes tries to think about an attack from the Shark’s perspective.
Imagine your tummy’s rumbling, and you’re ready for a tasty treat. Harbouring just outside the reef, you see what looks like a sea lion dropping in and smacking the lip. The electrical signal (heartbeat) coming off this seal-ish creature is just about right for a tasty morsel, so you edge closer to check for hazards.
Just as you’re getting ready to plan out your attack, you notice two big beautiful blue ones staring down at you from what should be the tail end. What the heck is that?!
Shark’s make an initial threat assessment using their visual senses before attacking prey. Fish and butterfly species have been using similar colouration techniques to detract predators for millennia so why not test it out with surfing?
Unfortunately, Shark Eyes still has yet to stand up to research trials and thus may not be considered as valid as some of the other research-based products on this list. That being said, if all you’re looking for is a peace of mind, Shark Eyes might be the perfect product for you.
4. Acoustic Shark Repellents
Black and white killer whales travel in packs across our oceans and occasionally stop for a sharky snack. Some logic might suggest that acoustic shark deterrents, imitating the sound of a killer whale or similar species, might scare away passing sharks.
SharkStopper takes this logic to the marketplace. Developed for use in Florida, a hotbed of shark bites, SharkStopper markets itself as “the world’s first and only acoustic shark repellent”. There might be a reason for that.
The unit is a small wearable device which sends out a combination of Orca calls and varied sound for, reportedly, repelling sharks. In research trials, they used a slightly different device by dropping a speaker off the bottom of a boat. However, there has yet to be peer-reviewed studies suggesting its validity.
Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, this technique hasn’t held up to peer-reviewed research. Dr Christine Erbe, a marine biologist with a specialty in whale vocalisation, explains that Orca packs or family groups have varying calls and language. This suggests that in different areas of the world, different orca calls may have varying effects, or may not work.
As previously stated, sharks utilise a variety of sensory perceptions when navigating the ocean and some of these various perceptions will most likely signal to sharks that you, not for lack of trying, are not an Ocra.
Erbe points out there’s also the problem of a shark figuring out you’re not an orca at all. In a similar study, certain fisheries have tried using orca calls to repel sea lions. These playful and intelligent creatures quickly realised that the fisheries, in fact, were not a family of whales and merely a collection of speakers. While sharks and sea lions are certainly physically and cognitively different creatures, we can assume that sharks may respond similarly.
5. Shark Spray? – Really?
Before heading out in the water, before to lather up with sunscreen and a bit of shark spray – really? However, there is some evidence that suggests that sharks have an aversion to the smell of dead relatives. SharkTec took a tip from Batman and Robin in creating their Anti-Shark 100.
So for an affordable $25 anti-shark spray carries an “essence of dead shark” – fragrance for men. Who doesn’t want to smell like a dead shark? Admittedly, the effects of Anti-Shark 100 are only temporary and will likely dissipate after some time spent in the ocean. Are these sprays designed to carry with you in the surf and release if you see a shark? Haha crazy concept, hard to sue them if you don’t live to tell the tale! lol.
So does shark spray really work? Maybe for Batman, but if you’re not a billionaire playboy from Gotham City, consider saving your cash.
So Do Shark Deterrents Really Work?
As stated, there’s a variety of different systems which claim to deter a shark attack. If you’re out in the water you might feel a tinge of the heebie-jeebies from time to time and carrying some form of Shark repellent might keep your demons at bay.
For better or worse, sharks are unpredictable creatures which may respond to different stimuli in a variety of different ways. If you’re looking for a true shark repellent, be sure to choose a system that offers peer-reviewed research on its effectiveness. That being said, you might just be the first failure of your chosen shark repellent.
Whatever shark repellent you choose, remember that no form of shark repellent is 100% effective. If you’re a casual surfer, you might save your cash or just stay out of the water. If you’re a diver, first-responder or professional rescuer, one of these tools might give you a little self-preservation in an emergency.
Written by Scott Shepherd.