Making a charge against shark attacks
This year there's been a few new players in the shark deterrent industry. On the back of shark attack clusters in Western Australia, Northern NSW, and Reunion Island, the need for safety is getting a strong push. It's spurred the industry to create many inventions, the latest being the Freedom+ Surf from Shark Shield.
Freedom+ Surf creates an electrical field that extends down into the water below the surfer. The manufacturers claim it's the world's only scientifically proven and independently tested electrical deterrent.
With surfers' lives at stake the shark deterrent market is starting to heat up. Swellnet recently spoke to Lindsay Lyon, CEO of Shark Shield, about the upcoming release of their electrical shark deterrent made specifically for surfers.
Swellnet: How long has Shark Shield, the company, been around?
Lindsay Lyon: Shark Shield was founded in 2001 in South Australia. The company first licensed technology from Kwa Zulu Natal Shark Board in South Africa in the late 90s and then went on to develop a range of electrical shark deterrents over the past fifteen years.
There's been a few new entrants in the shark deterrent industry, how does yours - specifically the Freedom+Surf - differ from other technologies?
The Shark Shield FREEDOM+ Surf is an electrical deterrent. It's the world’s only scientifically proven and independently tested electrical deterrent. Other products on the market include sound, sprays, and magnets. Choice Magazine recently released a story [which can be found here] noting that these products have no independent research supporting their claims.
There are only really three sharks of interest with respect to serious attacks: Whites make up 51%, Tigers 18%, and Bulls 17%. The peer reviewed research about to be released from the University of Western Australia shows that Shark Shield is effective 90% of the time, the ability if you like to remove 90% of the risk, with the majority of the research on whites.
The UWA research found that even lower powered electrical deterrent anklet devices to be ineffective. Given this, it is extremely unlikely that a non-powered magnet would have any effect in deterring a shark.
How does it work?
Sharks have small short-range electrical receptors in their snouts used for finding food. Shark Shield’s unique three-dimensional electrical waveform instantly turn sharks away by causing unbearable spasms in these sensitive receptors.
And it's powered by a battery stored in a surfboard tail pad: can it be swapped between boards?
The FREEDOM+ Surf has been designed for the surfer with a big quiver. The removable power module is housed in the custom designed Ocean & Earth tail pad kicker, enabling you to move the power module easily between your boards and for recharging. The all important antenna electrodes have been designed into a sticker thin adhesive decal - only 600 microns thin - applied to the underside of the surfboard. With a weight of just 230 grams and a near zero drag, there is no impact on your surfing performance.
How long have you worked on this product for?
We have been working on innovations for surfing for a long time, with our first surf product, the SURF7, coming out in 2007. That was our 'Sony Walkman' version.
We initially investigated using the fins as electrodes, but found this difficult unless you owned the plug as well, and having to cut something into your board is badness.
We started the decal antenna innovation in 2015 with a grant from the Western Australia government. The design of the all new FREEDOM+ Surf is the result of collaboration with Ocean & Earth and two-time world surfing champion Tom Carroll. We are very confident we now have the 'iPOD' version, or certainly heading in the right direction. Anyone can install the new FREEDOM+ Surf on practically any surfboard.
Shark Shield will be a feature story on 60 Minutes. During the investigation what did they find?
How many people would conduct live white shark testing of a new product on national TV? I think that’s what I was asking myself in the months leading up to the testing with 60 Minutes! At the end of the day you just have to have confidence in your technology, confidence in the years of testing we've conducted, and the years of independent testing...along with a few beers to calm the nerves.
We had issues on the day - as with all testing. The main issue was getting enough weight on the board to simulate a human, to keep the electrodes underwater, which they need to be to conduct. We had no interactions with the active floats [with Shark Shield on], but plenty of interactions with the non-active floats [Shark Shield off]. We also found post-testing that our power output was lower than designed.
Yet without giving too much away, Mr Carroll lived up to his utterly fearless reputation by surfing alone protected by his FREEDOM+ Surf. Even with a shark coming to say hello…
On the 4th July Professor Shaun Collin will release a paper on the efficacy of electrical shark deterrents? What's his relationship to Shark Shield?
He heads The University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute and the School of Animal Biology, his bio runs for about ten pages. A world renowned expert in his field, Collin has authored many scientific papers in the field.
Shaun led the research with Associate Professor Nathan Hart, and Dr. Ryan Kempster, with the research funded by the Western Australian Government over 2 1/2 years costing $680,000.
The research is independent with no relationship between the scientists, UWA, and Shark Shield.
It's hard for any technology to claim conclusively that they deter sharks, don't they all rely on an element of human faith? Faith in the technology, that is, not faith in the bearded bloke upstairs...
This statement may have been the case historically, however what the UWA peer reviewed research shows, and shows conclusively, is that Shark Shield does work. The technology without doubt reduces the risk - a 90% reduce is significant.
The risk of a shark encounter is so low it’s ridiculous that we can’t overcome our fears and doubts. Well, now if you want to go back to enjoying the ocean, you can take personal responsibility for removing the risk, you don’t have to have faith in the bearded bloke upstairs, the facts are the facts, Shark Shield significantly reduces the risk.