What… doesn't… work is "education"…
One of the things I’m proudest of, when I look around at my fellow surf brethren and sistren, is our level of detailed knowledge of sharks and shark deterrents.
To a man, woman and child I don’t know a single one who doesn’t get apoplectic when some egghead suggests that “education” is somehow an effective amelioration for reducing shark attacks.
Where’s the fucking evidence?
There ain’t none.
Even the chief shark researching stud Charlie Huveneers, Associate Prof at South Australia’s Flinders University drops it in his gold standard peer-reviewed science paper on the effectiveness of the various commercially available personal shark deterrents.
I mention as counterpoint to a new vid dropped by personal deterrent brand Sharkbanz – which claims to work by using a magnetic field to disrupt the electro-receptors contained in an organ most elasmobranchs* possess which rejoices under the the moniker: Ampullae of Lorenzini**.
The Sharkbanz footage, filmed in the glorious blue waters of the north-west of Western Australia is, of course, powerful testimony as to its efficacy. A cloth dummy named Bernie gets baited up and propped up on a board with and without the Sharkbanz attached to his ankle. Sharks seem to very much enjoy savaging his lower limbs when they are undressed of the magnetic bracelet.
So all good, Sharkbanz does the biz.
According to Charlie’s peer reviewed 2018 paper: “Neither the SharkBanz bracelet nor leash affected the behaviour of hite sharks or reduced the percentage of baits taken.”
Huveneers made the additional point, summarising the existing scientific research as well as his own, that any deterrent effect on sharks was likely to be only when the shark was closer than fifty centimetres causing him to reach the following conclusion,
“This suggests that magnets are unlikely to be effective at deterring sharks because they will only protect close to the magnet, limiting their applicability as personal deterrents unless stronger magnets can be used or many magnets are positioned on the surfer or board.”
Who to believe?
Bernie or the Prof?
One cat around here who believes in the Sharkbanz is local chef Jabez Reitzman.
Reitzman has also been hit by a shark, suffering wounds to his shoulder when what is believed to be a juvenile White latched onto him around around seven am, Feb 8, 2015, two days before Tadashi Nakahara was fatally mauled down the the road at Ballina. Reitzman told me out the back at Lennox Point he believes in the Sharkbanz, to which I replied: yeah, but you got bit.
To which he replied: forgot to put it on that day.
How good is the placebo effect though.
Mother Nature made a deal with the human mind to allow us to believe in things that are useful to us even if they ain’t strictly true.
There are strong proponents for this way of thinking. Queensland University shark researcher Blake Chapman said in relation to personal shark deterrents,
“These things may or may not work, but the chances of being bitten are so small, that if it’s giving you peace of mind to go out there and do your activity then it’s doing its job.”
A very much weirder advocate for a version of the placebo effect comes from South African inter-species communicator Anna Breytenbach.
She claims, after consulting with “Great White shark universal consciousness” that competitiveness and bad vibes might draw the predatory attention of White sharks.
Local surfer and environmental activist Dean Jefferies puts her thought into action thusly: “I send a telepathic message to any sharks that maybe in the area that I am their friend, I am not food or competition. I calm my energy, breath and heart rate and I transmute any lingering fear I may have around sharks. I say in my mind to any possible nearby shark, could you please keep a small distance away, and we can both be here in relative harmony with each other. “
What am I saying?
I’m saying that if wearing Sharkbanz helps keep the organism chill and in non-prey mode then it’s effectiveness as a shark deterrent may not be an entirely anti-scientific proposition despite the conclusions of Assoc Prof Huveneers.
Can you guess the preferred method of deterrence chosen by surf Mamas and Papas looking to protect their progeny during the height of the shark attack crisis of 2015/16 in the hamlet of Lennox Head?
It was a diving knife strapped to the calf, ready for hand-to-hand combat with the Leviathan. I shit you not comrades.
Education. We don’t need no education.
How are Sharkbanz selling locally in one of the sharkiest joints on earth?
I hit the bricks in Byron, Lennox and Ballina and couldn’t find one for sale.
Looks like a ready made role for a recently retired pro who needs some sales repping work.
Anyone come to mind?
I know we are really dragging this one out but time for a little super quick shark tale as dessert?
Just one little scoop.
Glorious winters day in ’93.
Honeymooning couple Debbie and John Ford are ascending from a dive at Julian Rocks, a mile out to sea in Byron Bay. John sees an eighteen-foot White headed for his bride and puts himself between it and the gal.
Gets bitten in half.
Local fisherman Ron Boggis is deputised by the constabulary to hunt the shark down. He hooks the monster on a drum line and it tows him and the boat miles and miles out to sea.
Hours pass with the fisherman locked in battle with the shark. In the dark he gets close enough to try and loose rounds of a .33 into the beast.
The shark snaps the chain, leaving only the mans regurgitated leg as a reminder of the battle as it slinks off into the inky waters of the night.
** Damn it feels good to put this Marine Biology degree to use.