A University of Flinders study has found shark bites could be reduced by about 60 per cent if effective personal electronic deterrents are properly used.
The research, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, suggests as many as 1,063 Australians could be spared from attacks over the next 50 years if they use the right technology.
Lead author Corey Bradshaw and co-author, associate professor Charlie Huveneers, said the figures were based on previous studies carried out in South Australia’s Neptune Islands.
“Charlie and his group took mock surfboards and put these different bits of equipment on them, and then a bit of bait,” Dr Bradshaw said.
“[The team] tested which deterrents actually seemed to reduce the incidence of the shark taking a bite of the bait and it turns out only one of the electronic deterrents worked and all the other ones failed to have any effect.”
How do deterrents work?
Dr Bradshaw said sharks used electro perception when going in to bite prey.
“They have a very advanced system for detecting electric fields,” he said.
“This is why electronic deterrents work because they disrupt that electrical sensory perception.
“Imagine if you’re going to put a spoonful of food in your mouth and you’re expecting it to be quite mild and someone has dumped a bunch of chilli sauce on it that you weren’t expecting.
“You get a whiff of it and go, ‘I’m not going to put that in my mouth’ — but you were intending to take that mouthful anyway.
“That’s how I look at electronic deterrents.”
‘I still prefer a cage’
Dr Huveneers said while studies had demonstrated that electronic deterrents can reduce the probability of shark bites, device efficacy varied.
“Even between products of the same manufacturer,” he said.
Dr Bradshaw said electronic deterrents needed to be set to the appropriate frequencies, that they had be worn properly did protect the sensitive areas like the head and torso.
“If you dig under the surface, you find that most of them aren’t tested properly, you have to really look at the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of each design and wear them properly, because if they’re not put on properly or they’re not in the right format then they just won’t work,” he said.
Dr Bradshaw said there was no guarantee a shark would not bite with the right deterrent.
“I still prefer a cage between me and a white pointer,” he said.
“It’s just reducing the probability that you will be targeted and bitten.”