Seeking a ‘great’ shark deterrent

Photo courtesy Fox Shark Research Foundation.

Valuable insights into the performance of commercially available personal shark deterrents have been revealed in Flinders University research.

The project, led by funding from by the NSW Government’s $16 million Shark Management Strategy Annual Competitive Grants program, led to a report by the Southern Shark Ecology Group (SSEG) and Global Ecology Laboratory at Flinders University that showed that the Ocean Guardian Freedom+ Surf device had the greatest effect on white shark behaviour among five deterrents tested.

“The Freedom+ Surf is designed to deter sharks by overwhelming their electro-reception sensory organ,” says Associate Professor Charlie Huveneers.

“We recorded more than 1,400 interactions from 44 different white sharks to compare their reactions to the Freedom+ Surf device in controlled, open-ocean trials.”

The scientists focused on white sharks because this species is responsible for most of the unprovoked bites leading to human fatalities in Australia.

Photo Andrew Fox, from the Fox Shark Research Foundation

“We wanted to test how well the Freedom+ Surf, designed for surfers, could modify the behaviour of white sharks and reduce the chance of a bite,” says marine ecologist Associate Professor Huveneers, who leads the SSEG at the College of Science and Engineering at Flinders.

“We compared how many baits sharks took, the time they took to take them, the number of times sharks approached baits, and the distance they moved toward them.

“We found that the Freedom+ Surf, which produces a strong electric pulse, affected shark behaviour and reduced the chance of a white shark taking the surfboard-mounted bait from 96% to 40%.”

This project was funded by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Shark Management Strategy Competitive Annual Grants Program, the Government of South Australia, Ocean Guardian Pty Ltd and the Neiser Foundation.

The full report, entitled ‘Response of white sharks exposed to newly developed personal shark deterrents,’ by Flinders University scientists and Andrew Fox from the Fox Shark Research Foundation, has been published by the NSW Government.

Disclosure: Apart from providing some financial support to conduct the field work (e.g. boat hire and equipment purchase), Ocean Guardian, the manufacturer of  Freedom+ Surf powered by the Sharkshield Technology, had no opportunity to influence any aspect of the study or its conclusions. The company was not involved in the study design or implementation, nor did they have access to the data post-collection, or provided input into data analysis, interpretation, writing of the report, or the conclusions drawn. The study design followed a protocol developed for a previous study (Huveneers et al 2013), which was not funded by Ocean Guardian.

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