Tech could save thousands of lives from shark bites over the next 50 years

Although fatal shark attacks are exceedingly rare, an increasing number of people are spending time in waters frequented by potentially dangerous sharks. Naturally, the number of shark attacks is thus expected to rise, unless people take preventive measures, such as employing electronic deterring devices.

According to a new study, the use of personal electronic deterrents could save the lives of up to 1,063 Australians along the country’s coastline over the next 50 years.

Credit: piqsels.

The researchers led by Professor Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University accessed the Australian Shark Attack File curated by Taronga Conservation Society Australia, which reported 985 shark attacks from 1900 to 2020 from 20 different species.

Using this data, the researchers developed a predictive model that estimates the preventive impact of electronic deterrents. These devices, such as the commercially available Shark Shield, produce a strong electric field that is designed to interfere with the shark’s electroreceptive system, a sense mediated by a network of sensors on the shark’s head.

Such devices are used by some professional divers but if more people used them, the likelihood of a shark bite would be reduced by 60%, said the researchers.

“Avoiding death, injury, and trauma from shark bites over the next half-century would be a realistic outcome if people use these personal electronic deterrents whenever they’re in the water, and as long as the technology is operating at capacity,” said Bradshaw in a statement.

“Given that governments are applying multiple approaches to mitigate shark bites such as drones, SMART drumlines, and acoustic monitoring, our simulations suggest electronic deterrents could make a valuable contribution to overall mitigation, and so help allay community fears.”

In their study, the researchers write that the cost of implementing electronic deterrence is greatly offset by the revenue gained from businesses that cater to water users and tourism.

Spatial distribution of shark-bite incidents in the Australian Shark Attack File. Red icons show incidents resulting in ahuman fatality. Credit: Professor Corey Bradshaw, Flinders University.

That being said, the authors also added that electronic deterrents aren’t perfect and people should be extra careful regardless of whether or not they use such devices.

“Although several studies have demonstrated that electronic deterrents can reduce the probability of shark bites, device efficacy varies among manufacturers and even between products of the same manufacturer,” said co-author Associate Professor Charlie Huveneers, who leads the Southern Shark Ecology Group at Flinders University.

“When testing these products scientifically, we need a large number of interactions to (i.e., using robust statistics) assess efficacy confidently. As a result, we often need to use bait or berley to attract sharks, which likely motivate sharks to bite more than in situations when sharks encounter a swimmer or surfer.”

The findings appeared in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

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