Summer is right around the corner in the Northern Hemisphere. You know what that means — shark attacks will soon be on the rise. Fortunately, a newly-developed device is “100% successful” at protecting swimmers and surfers from the predatory fish.
Associate Professor Dr. Nathan Hart of Macquarie University invented the device, which is overwhelmingly successful at deterring sharks. His solution wasn’t shark repellents, acoustic devices, fake fins, sprays, or color-changing boards, but LED lights.
Said Dr. Hart: “We’re trying to use lights, which is a strategy of counter-illumination, to break up the silhouette of a surfer as seen from below by a shark, and hopefully use this to prevent sharks from coming up and investigating people on the boards.”
ABC News reports that the LED lights can be attached to the underside of the board or incorporated into the board itself. Says Hart: “From the shark’s perspective, when they look up they see a silhouette, [human surfers] look a lot like their natural prey, which is seals. If we can break up the outline of that seal shape on the surface, we’ll make the object much less enticing for the shark to investigate, because they’re going to know it’s not their usual prey.”
The technique was “borrowed” from fish that use the same technique to avoid being prey. “This strategy is a common strategy used by midwater fish, which are trying to avoid predators swimming below them,” said Hart. “Some of these fish have light emitting organs on their underside, which put out light and help them to camouflage themselves from the light coming from above.”
“Technology and engineering take inspiration from nature, so we’re really trying to use that inspiration that has evolved over many millions of years, and apply that to a very modern problem,” the comparative neurobiologist added.
Seal-shaped foam helped the researchers test the device. One seal shaped foam was outfitted with LED lights; the other was left as-is. In a controlled way, Hart and his colleagues pulled the decoys with a boat. They then documented the results.
“So far with our testing, we’ve tried a few designs, we know some things that don’t work, but we’ve come up with at least two different designs which work extremely well, and the sharks essentially don’t touch it all,” said Hart. “So we’re very confident that at least under the conditions tested, we’ve got a very high success rate in deterring those sharks.”
Before the device hits the market, it needs to undergo more testing. So far, the team’s tests have only been with white sharks. They need to assure it will deter other species of sharks, as well.
“We want to make sure it doesn’t increase your risk of other shark attacks,” said Hart. “It’s not going to be there for Christmas, we’ve probably got another 18 months or two years to run with this research project. Then we’ll be looking to take a commercial prototype and get that manufactured and start trying to distribute that technology and popularise it.”
The end goal is to protect both sharks and humans. “It’s a fascinating area of research, and most importantly we want to protect people, but we also want to protect sharks,” concluded Hart.
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