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Predicting potential future reduction in shark bites on people

Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Phoebe Meagher, Madeline J. Thiele, Robert G. Harcourt and Charlie Huveneers

Published 31 March 2021 | The Royal Society of Open Science

Summary

Despite the low chance of a person being bitten by a shark, there are serious associated costs. Electronic deterrents are currently the only types of personal deterrent with empirical evidence of a substantial reduction in the probability of being bitten by a shark. We aimed to predict the number of people who could potentially avoid being bitten by sharks in Australia if they wear personal electronic deterrents. We used the Australian Shark Attack File from 1900 to 2020 to develop sinusoidal time-series models of per capita incidents, and then stochastically projected these to 2066. We predicted that up to 1063 people (range: 185–2118) could potentially avoid being bitten across Australia by 2066 if all people used Ocean Guardian devices. Avoiding death and injury of people over the next half-century is of course highly desirable, especially when considering the additional costs associated with the loss of recreational, commercial and tourism revenue potentially in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars following clusters of shark-bite events.

Scientists acknowledged that testing is done in an environment where bait or burley is used to attract sharks, which likely motivates sharks to bite more than in situations when sharks would encounter a swimmer or surfer. Therefore the ability of electric deterrents to reduce shark bites might be even greater than the 60% decrease observed in the studies, further increasing the number of lives saved. 

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