According to Taronga Zoo’s Shark Attack Report, of the 22 unprovoked shark attacks in 2015 (one fatal), 18 of these cases were with surfboard and body-board riders. This makes it extremely important that surfers are aware of the ways they can reduce their risk of a shark encounter.
Shark deterrent technologies:
- Shark Shield: “In 2012, Australian scientists independently tested Shark Shield devices off the coast of South Africa using towed seal decoys, a test that closely resembles a shark attacking a moving surfboard. With the Shark Shield turned off, there were 16 breaches and 27 surface interactions. With the Shark Shield turned on, there were no breaches and only two at-surface interactions, unequivocally proving the efficacy of the Shark Shield deterrent solution.”
- Modom Shark Leash: The Modom Shark Leash uses magnetic technology that is proven to be effective in deterring many different species of sharks.
Board and wetsuit design:
According to research “the colour of an object floating in the water had a strong influence on the likelihood that a shark would approach and interact with it”. It found:
- Silver and white objects are most likely to attract bull sharks and tiger sharks.
- Yum Yum Yellow: Sharks are colour-blind, meaning that they make discriminations based on brightness differences. This means that they are most attracted to what we see as the colour yellow, as it is brightest against dark water. This has given it the name “yum yum yellow” amongst the surfing community. Following his shark encounter, pro-surfer Mick Fanning ditched his yellow boards and added contrasting patterns to his existing boards as a way to reduce the likelihood of another attack.
- Patterns: Research has found that high contrast patterns on boards and wetsuits deter sharks, as many species tend to avoid venomous black and white-banded sea snakes. Brands like Shark Attack Mitigation Systems offer a variety of patterned wetsuits to deter sharks or to help surfers camouflage into the water.
The development and trial of an organic surfboard wax is currently underway in South Australia, which contains a mixture of herbs and spices believed to give off a pungent scent that may deter sharks from approaching a surfer.
Dorsal is Australia’s largest sharks alerts and reporting service. The phone app provides free access to alerts on shark sightings across Australia, including details on location, size and shark breed. The app already has over 150,000 users and is growing. The company is also currently working on the development of a waterproof wearable that will hook up to the various data sources to alert people of shark sightings while in water.
Other ways to reduce your likelihood of an encounter:
- Stay out of the water if sharks have been sighted in the area
- Don’t go in the water alone (stay in groups)
- Avoid water temperatures lower than 22C
- Avoid water depths of greater than 5m
- Avoid surfing after heavy storms, or in low light conditions (dusk, dawn and night)
- Avoid surfing if there are seals, dolphins, whales, baitfish or large schools of fish nearby
- Do not surf in dirty or turbid water
- Avoid surfing far offshore, near deep channels or along drop-offs to deeper water as this is where sharks are more likely to inhabit
- Avoid entering the ocean near a river mouth, especially after a rainstorm (rain can wash food items into the sea, attracting fish and sharks)
Feature photo: Thomas Peschak