A spate of attacks on Northern NSW beaches late last year, not to mention dramatic footage of pro surfer Mick Fanning punching a shark in the nose in South Africa, has sparked much debate over the best means of deterring attacks.
While state governments are forking out millions on beach-wide strategies, individuals now have reassurance about what they are buying when it comes to personal deterrents, thanks to an independent study by Choice.
Out of several products it surveyed, the consumer advocacy group said a device called Shark Shield, which uses electrical pulses to overwhelm sensory receptors in a shark’s nostrils, is the only one “independently shown to be effective at deterring sharks from biting”.
Shark Shield emits an electrical field from a two metre-long cord which is attached to and trails behind a device worn on the ankle.
The pulses flood the shark’s electrical sensors – called ampullae of Lorenzini – causing them to spasm uncomfortably so the shark turns away.
Shark Shield managing director Lindsay Lyon said it was good news the device had now been recognised by the consumer group.
“It’s very difficult to convince consumers that you can stop something the size of a car coming at you at 40km an hour,” he said.
“We’ve now got three pieces of independent scientific research and a consumer advocacy group who say to consumers there is an effective product on the market, so take a look,” he said.
Choice examined a range of personal shark deterrents including electrical, magnetic and acoustic repellents; repellent sprays; and visual options like changing the pattern of a wetsuit.
Choice spokesperson Tom Godfrey warned consumers that “marketing sharks” was the real predator.
“There was a feeding frenzy around shark attacks and it’s clear that marketing was targeting consumers with dubious offerings,” Mr Godfrey said.
“We wanted to see which
have the science behind them.”
Mr Godfrey said while the Shark Shield – which can also be fitted to surfboards and kayaks – could deter a shark from attacking, it wouldn’t do so every time.
“I don’t think any [of the devices on the market] are perfect and certainly your best defense against being attacked by a shark is to stay out of the water,” he said.
An abalone diver told Choice he knew of two people who had been attacked while wearing a Shark Shield.
In assessing the products, Choice examined existing research on Shark Shield including a University of Western Australia study which found the device had prevented some – but not all – great white and tiger shark attacks. Earlier research from the South Australian Research and Development Institute showed similar results.
Shark Shield’s Mr Lyon said people needed to realise there was “not a safety product in the world in any category that is 100 per cent effective”.
He compared Shark Shield with bike helmets or seat belts, describing it as a tool that surfers or divers who were most at risk of attack could use for peace of mind.
“If you would like to reduce risk, there is technology that will reduce that risk,” he said.
Bob Lushey, managing director of Radiator, whose camouflage wet suits were also reviewed by Choice, said there was a place for all shark deterrent products on the market.
Radiator’s wet suit design used the “simple logic” of sharks’ colour perception to minimise attacks without the need for extra equipment, he said.
Independent testing of the repellent wetsuits’ effectiveness is still under way.