News National Shark-repellent bands promise to steer away sharks, but do they work?

Shark-repellent bands promise to steer away sharks, but do they work?

Shark-repellant products such as Sharkbanz aim to stop shark attacks, but many people aren't convinced. Photo: AAP
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Dramatic footage has emerged of a shark repellent being trialled in Australian waters, with a fake body and bloody meat used to show how the technology could stop water attacks.

But the questions remains: Does the technology actually work – and will surfers and swimmers trust a bit of rubber to save them?

Although the chances of getting bitten by a shark are incredibly slim, for many people the fear alone can be enough to prevent them from swimming in the ocean.

The fear is perhaps most founded in Western Australia.

There, the severity of shark attacks has prompted the state government to offer a $200 rebate to residents that buy a scientifically-proven-and-approved personal shark deterrent device.

In a country whose population lives mostly near the coast, and whose culture and tourism is heavily centred on ocean life, it’s little wonder governments see shark protection as a priority.

Nor is it a surprise companies might see a business opportunity.

From shark-deterrent wetsuits to anti-shark spray, new products claim to trick sharks into swimming away from humans.

In recent days a major player in the market started spruiking its product to an Australian audience, claiming wristbands have successfully deterred sharks.

Sharkbanz said it uses magnetic technology to interfere with sharks’ ability to sense electromagnetic fields in their search for prey.

The pulse created by the bands is intended to overwhelm the shark so they swim away and leave the wearer alone.

Former US president Barack Obama was reportedly spotted wearing one around his ankle last month while paddle-boarding in Hawaii.

Recently, the US-based company trialled its shark deterrent band in waters off north-western Australia, filming a dummy on a surfboard with and without a band during a feeding frenzy of sharks.

The footage appears to show that when the dummy is wearing the magnetic device, the sharks leave it alone.

But when the band is taken off the dummy, the sharks attack and rip it to shreds.

Many experienced surfers aren’t convinced shark-repellent bands actually work.

Surfing Victoria CEO Adam Robertson said surfers shouldn’t rely on a band to protect them from attacks, warning products weren’t always scientifically proven.

“We encourage surfers to do their research on what they are purchasing to make an informed decision and understand that there is no fully proven method to deter a shark attack,” Mr Robertson told The New Daily. 

Nick Carroll is a world-renowned editor of several major surfing magazines.

During his 50 years of surfing experience, not once has he considered wearing a shark-repellent band.

“There is no device that would stop one of those great white sharks if it went into attack mode,” Mr Carroll told The New Daily.

“It doesn’t matter what band you were wearing on your wrist.”

Nick Carroll surfing at Bells Beach in Victoria.
During an interview with Choice consumer advocacy group, a Sharkbanz spokesperson said its device could repel a range of sharks, including bull sharks and small tiger sharks, but they don’t recommend it for deterring great whites.
Great white sharks accounted for about 40 per cent of the attacks in WA since 1980, according to Sharksmart government information service.

Ultimately, there is no guarantee the bands will keep sharks away –something that American teen Zack Davis knows from personal experience.

In 2016, the 16-year-old was testing his new Sharkbanz strap while surfing at a beach in Florida when he was bitten on the arm by what experts believe was a 1.5-metre blacktip shark.


How bad is our shark problem?

So far, there have been six shark attacks in Australia this year – one of them fatal.

Although the total number of shark attacks has steadily risen since the 1900s, the trend is not too concerning when the figures take into account our growing population.

Over the 101-year period to 2015, there were 835 attacks in Australia waters from 12 different species.

Mr Carroll said shark attacks, though “gory”, rarely happened.

“Shark attacks get inflated in people’s imagination, especially if they don’t get in the ocean very much,” he said.

“But you can be pretty safe in assuming you’ll never be touched by a shark, or even see one, out in the ocean.”

He said buying a shark-repellent band was “like insuring yourself against being hit by a meteor”.

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