TERRY GOSS, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
WOLFGANG STAUDT, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
A high-tech version of the reputedly life-saving punch to a shark’s nose is being tested in an effort to protect humans without harming the toothy predators or other sea creatures.
In the blue waters of a small bay in Cape Town, a revolutionary experiment with an electronic barrier seeks to exploit the super-sensitivity of a sharks’ snout to keep swimmers and surfers safe.
The technology has been developed by South African experts who invented the electronic “shark pod” for use by surfers and divers — now marketed by an Australian company — and could be applied globally if successful.
The pod and years of research have shown that sharks will turn away when they encounter an electrical current — and that has prompted this experiment on a much larger scale.
A 100-meter (328 feet) cable with vertical “risers” designed to emit a low-frequency electronic field is in the process of being fixed to the seabed off Glencairn beach, and will remain there for five months.
“If successful, it will provide the basis to develop a barrier system that can protect bathers without killing or harming sharks or any other marine animals,” says the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, which developed the shark pod.
As for humans, “if someone touched the small part of an electrode that is exposed, they might experience a tingling sensation” but would suffer no harmful effects.
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The barrier would mark a major shift away from the shark nets used in KwaZulu-Natal on South Africa’s east coast for the past 50 years, which also kill other animals and have been criticized as environmentally destructive.
Research has shown that sharks have a gel in their noses which makes them more sensitive to electrical currents than other species, and thus ordinary fish and sea life such as seals and dolphins should not be affected by the barrier.
“We are doing our damndest to do something environmentally friendly,” sharks board project specialist Paul von Blerk told AFP.
But the challenges are huge.