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Can Electronic Shark Deterrents save the Surf and Dive Industry

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Greg Pickering, a professional abalone diver in his mid-50’s was lucky to survive a shark attack while diving in waters off Poison Creek beach, 160 kilometres east of the town of Esperance, Western Australia, on 8th October.

With five fatal attacks due to Great White Sharks in the past two years and this most recent attack, Western Australia is vying for the unenviable title of “Shark Capital of the World”.

Sadly, as well as spoiling the fun of millions of Australians it also means the Australian ocean sport and tourism industries are suffering significantly from the fear of shark attacks, with many surf and dive shops seeing a 40 per cent decline in revenue.

But the Australian company behind Shark Shield, the world’s only scientifically proven and independently tested electronic shark deterrent, believes the reduced popularity of aquatic sports is unnecessary and a better understanding of electronic shark deterrents would go a long way to reducing concerns about taking to the ocean.

The Shark Shield provides a clear level of protection not only for professional ocean users like abalone divers but recreational users like surfers, spear fishers and scuba divers. Getting that message across, however, has proved problematic.

“It’s incredibly frustrating that a product that is so well proven with 20 years of scientific research, significant independent testing and a long history of saving lives can be so misunderstood,” said Lindsay Lyon, Executive Chairman of Shark Shield.

“When the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) released its independent Shark Shield research in 2012, several media outlets incorrectly reported and sensationalised the results as device failures. “We did not see the media even comment on the tests using towed seal decoys. In this set of tests (186 tows) with the Shark Shield turned off, there were 16 breaches and 27 surface interactions. But with the Shark Shield turned on, there were no breaches and only two at-surface interactions”.

“This is a shark in full attack mode being deterred by Shark Shield, a simulation very close to a shark attacking a surfer. How much more evidence does a surfer need to be convinced that it’s safe to go back in the water if you use a Shark Shield?”

In a second set of tests, a six-kilogram piece of tuna was suspended in chummed up water, metres away from a Shark Shield FREEDOM7 device with the sharks successfully taking the bait. However, with the deterrent turned on it took the sharks twice as long to take the bait. Mr Lyon states that these test results are a positive, not negative.

“There are a handful of people that have the mindset that if you can’t guarantee a safety product 100 per cent in all situations then the solutions no good, yet we know there are no guarantees with any other safety solutions like seat belts, airbags or safety helmets. We have hundreds of Shark Shield users who have provided positive testimonials about Shark Shields who know that our devices have indeed saved their lives.”

Shark Shield works by producing a localised electric field between two electrodes when submerged in seawater. This electric field is sensed by the shark’s Ampullae of Lorenzini, which are small gel-filled sacs located in the shark’s snout. The device’s electrical field causes these gel-filled sacs to spasm and the shark to flee the area.

According to Mr Lyon, there is a myth in the surfing community that electronic deterrents actually attract a shark to the area because they mistakenly believe a shark can sense the electrical field from great distances. “This is completely untrue and a myth,” he said. “Electronic shark deterrents simply do not attract sharks.

According to the Oxford Encyclopaedia of Animal Behaviour the ampulla receptors maximum sensing distance is well under a metre. Couple this with the fact that electrical currents cannot travel any distance through water, this myth is an impossibility that would defy the laws of physics and biology.

To encourage move surfers to use Shark Shield the company is including a free dive pouch with each SURF7. The dive pouch enables the SURF7 to also be used for snorkelling and diving as well as surfing, the pouch is free with every purchase until the end of December.

“With the Australian ocean sports and tourism industry being so severely impacted by shark attacks, the industry and government need to work together to support the use of proven shark deterrents to bring back consumer confidence. We need to work together to educate water lovers that there is a proven solution that can allow them to safely get back in the water without fear.”

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