How New Technologies Could Prevent Shark Attacks

You might not need a bigger boat

Key Takeaways

  • A recent study finds that shark attacks can be reduced using a new gadget. 
  • The $500 Rpela V2 anti-shark device attaches to the bottom of a surfboard. 
  • Shark attacks are on the rise around the world.
Extreme closeup of a great white shark attacking.

lindsay_imagery / Getty Images

Shark attacks may be rare, but new gadgets could make them even less likely to occur.

Researchers found in a recent study that a surfboard-mounted shark deterrent device has been found to reduce the likelihood of bite by 66%. The Rpela V2 produces an electric field around the surfer that overwhelms the shark's electro-reception organs, which they use to navigate and assess their surroundings. It's part of the growing field of anti-shark tech. 

"There are a lot of things being developed to mitigate shark interactions by detecting sharks in an area where people may be swimming, such as drones, SMART drumlines, acoustic monitoring systems, and helicopters," Shark expert James Sulikowski told Lifewire in an email interview.

Surfers Delight?

Scientists say that surfers can hang loose using the Rpela V2 anti-shark device. The rechargeable gadget costs $500 and attaches to the bottom of a surfboard. 

"Unlike swimmers, surfers can't generally be confined to a small location (e.g., tens or hundreds of meters between a marked area patrolled by surf lifesavers and lifeguards) and are generally in deeper water than swimmers," the study's authors wrote in the paper. 

Surfers "are not allowed in patrolled areas which are exclusively designated to swimmers and often frequent the reefs and headlands between or at the ends of beaches which cannot practically be covered by beach-wide protection systems," the authors continued. 

The Rpela V2's electric pulses won't hurt sharks, the researchers said, and the effect is similar to humans moving away from unpleasantly loud music.

Researchers tested the device at Salisbury Island near Esperance, an area known for its large population of white sharks. The work was led by engineering company Cardno and involved shark expert Daryl McPhee and Ocean Ramsey, known for freediving with large white sharks. 

Shark Attacks Increasing

There may be a growing market for gadgets like the Rpela as shark attacks are on the rise.

Over 30 years, unprovoked shark bites have been recorded from 56 countries and territories, with most (84%) in the United States, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, the Bahamas, and Reunion Island. 

"Driving your car or even walking across the street is statistically much more dangerous than a shark attack."

Other devices designed to keep sharks at bay include the SharkStopper. The device emits an acoustic signal and automatically turns on in the water. Still, Sulikowski warned that studies on shark repellents have been limited, "and really nothing is 100% effective in reducing interaction with a shark."

However, people are not part of any shark's natural diet, Sulikowski pointed out.  

"Although sharks are often villainized, they rarely ever interact with people," he said. "In fact, the chances of being bitten by a shark are very, very small compared to other animal attacks, natural disasters, and ocean-side dangers."

The shark bites that occur are largely due to humans being in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as "swimming in areas where sharks are known to feed, and those bites are essentially due to mistaken identity," he added. 

Surfer Chaz Wyland said he doesn't worry about sharks when he hits the waves around North County, San Diego. 

"I've never seen a big shark while surfing," he told Lifewire in an email interview. "I've seen a handful of reef sharks that don't really pose much of a threat to humans."

A staged image of someone under the water being attacked by sharks.

stefanoborsani / Getty Images

Wyland has looked into various shark deterrent gadgets, including a band that you wear around your wrist like a watch. The device works by putting out a magnetic signal that disrupts the shark's ability to navigate and locate prey. 

"In my experience, and from what I've heard about from other surfers and water lovers, these bands give you peace of mind but aren't going to stop a hungry shark," Wyland said. "There is anecdotal evidence that they work, but I still wouldn't feel better in sharky waters with this on."

People don't need to be afraid of sharks, Wyland said.

"Driving your car or even walking across the street is statistically much more dangerous than a shark attack," he added. "The odds of getting attacked are extremely low, and the odds of dying from an attack are even lower."

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