JENNIFER VIEGAS for Discovery NewsJul 21, 2014


A shark-sensing “buoy” and a fake kelp forest that is actually a high tech shark barrier could soon be deployed at beaches to help prevent shark attacks, which led to 10 deaths last year and dozens of serious injuries.

The new inventions could be a win for sharks as well as humans, since both systems do not harm sharks. Shark culling as well as drum lines, which brutally capture large sharks using baited hooks, are still common at beaches around the world, so it’s hoped that more high tech methods will soon replace the very eco-unfriendly practices.

Craig O’Connell, founder of the marine conservation non-profit O’Seas Conservation Foundation, helped to develop the SharkSafe Barrier™, which is designed to resemble a kelp forest and includes magnets that deter great white, bull, hammerhead, tiger and other shark species. Its success is documented in a paper that will be published in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

“The current Western Australian shark cull is a short-term solution that may have long-term negative consequences on the marine ecosystem,” O’Connell, lead author of the paper, told Discovery News. “Our barrier does not use netting or hooks, but rather stimuli that non-invasively deter sharks away from a region, whereas other marine life can simply swim through the barrier.”

Testing has determined that marine mammals, such as Cape fur seals, pass through the barrier unimpeded. Abalone, a sea snail whose population has been in global decline, seem to love the SharkSafe Barrier™, attaching themselves to it as they would to a rocky substrate.

As for its shark-repelling properties, O’Connell explained that sharks, skates and rays have a unique electro-sensory system known as the ampullae of Lorenzini, whereas most animals do not. The researchers therefore believe that the magnets within the SharkSafe Barrier™ specifically target sharks and their relatives.

“As a shark approaches the magnet,” O’Connell said, “we hypothesize that an electric field is induced that may overwhelm the electro-sensory system of these sharks,” causing them to avoid the area and swim in the opposite direction.

Additionally, sharks tend not to enter high-density natural kelp forests, which is why prey of these toothy hunters so often seek refuge in kelp. Just the look of the SharkSafe Barrier™, made up of three to five rows of large vertical pipes, can put a shark off.

Clever Buoy is yet another new shark attack deterrent system. The visible part of the device is a bright yellow buoy.

Hamish Jolly, who helped to develop Clever Buoy, explained that it “is a shark detection system, which uses remote sensing in the ocean looking for shark-like objects. When it finds a shark, it sends a signal to shore via satellite through the Optus network.”

Jolly, co-founder with Craig Anderson of Shark Mitigation Systems, added that the sensing component utilizes commercial software already used by the oil and gas industry. Instead of being calibrated to look for oil, the system is adjusted to seek out the sonar signature of sharks.

Once a shark is detected, an alert is sent to local lifeguards or other officials, who can see the alert on a smart device. They may then sound an alarm, notifying recreational water users to get out of the water until the shark swims away.

Both the SharkSafe Barrier™ and Clever Buoy are still in development and testing phases. O’Connell said that “once we finish our final phase of research in South Africa (anticipated completion date is August 2014), we will be searching for funding so we can deploy the barrier at beach sites.”

Clever Buoy could be spotted at beaches by mid 2015, which is when Jolly, Anderson and their team hope to commercialize their system.

This article originally published at Discovery News