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Beach Grit

Breakthrough: Anti-Great White device “100% successful!”

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

God, it's so…damn…simple!

If you live in San Clemente or Margaret River or Esperance or Cape Town or San Francisco or Byron Bay and so forth, you might be interested in a scientific breakthrough that has been proven to ward off Great White sharks.

Researchers from Australia’s Macquarie University have discovered that if LED lights are affixed to the bottom of a surfboard and in a certain pattern, Great Whites will avoid it.

“The designs we have tested have been 100 per cent successful in preventing Great white sharks from attacking,” Professor Nathan Hart, associate professor of comparative neurophysiology at Macquarie, said in an interview with The Australian newspaper. 

“(It’s) a strategy of counter-illumination, to break up the silhouette of a surfer as seen from below by a shark, and hopefully use this to prevent sharks from coming up and investigating people on the boards,” Hart told the state-owned radio station Triple J.  “From the shark’s perspective, when they look up they see a silhouette, [human surfers] look a lot like their natural prey, which is seals. If we can break up the outline of that seal shape on the surface, we’ll make the object much less enticing for the shark to investigate, because they’re going to know it’s not their usual prey.”

The idea, like most good ones, comes from the undersea kingdom itself.

“This strategy is a common strategy used by midwater fish, which are trying to avoid predators swimming below them. Some of these fish have light emitting organs on their underside, which put out light and help them to camouflage themselves from the light coming from above. Technology and engineering take inspiration from nature, so we’re really trying to use that inspiration that has evolved over many millions of years, and apply that to a very modern problem.”

Hart, and his post-doctoral researcher Laura Ryan pal, used foam cut-outs of seals, a Great White favourite, to test the light setup in South Africa.

“What we do is take seal shaped foam as decoys. One that has lights on it, which is our test, and one that doesn’t which is our control. And then in a controlled way, we pull these behind a boat, and see which one the shark comes up and breaches on.  So far with our testing, we’ve tried a few designs, we know some things that don’t work, but we’ve come up with at least two different designs which work extremely well, and the sharks essentially don’t touch it all.”

So when’s the light pack coming out?

Hart says it’ll be at least another eighteen months. They’ve gotta check to make sure it doesn’t attract any other sharks, bulls, tigers, makos, etc.

You want your board to look like a jacked-up Hyundai?

I think, maybe worth it.