Sharks are a hot topic right now. With the combination of Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week” airing, plus a heightened number of shark attacks off the Carolinas’ coasts, sharks are on the brain. Now, technology is helping us understand them and their behaviors better than ever and it’s offering ways to protect ourselves from potential attacks.
Technology allows humans to track sharks, check in on their whereabouts and learn about their tendencies. It also could help protect humans from shark attacks with innovative new surf and SCUBA suits.
There are a handful of ways humans use technology to track shark movement and behavior.
OCEARCH: OCEARCH is a shark tracking initiative that covers the globe. The organization provides researchers with hands-on data from live sharks worldwide. OCEARCH hopes to help preserve shark life and avoid attacks on humans by learning more about the animals. Anyone can check out shark updates for more than 100 sharks on the OCEARCH website.
Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (PacIOOS): PacIOOS is a shark tracking organization that focuses on tiger sharks in and around the Pacific Islands of the United States. As one of eleven programs under the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) umbrella, PacIOOS tracks more than 20 individual sharks that site users can check in on.
Explore.org: Explore provides a real-time “shark cam” that runs a live video feed from the ocean to your computer screen. Viewers can watch tons of sea life – including sharks – in their natural habitats all day, every day.
SHARK SMART: This organization’s mission to keep Australia’s beaches safer. With support from the Government of Western Australia, it uses various types of technology such as tracking and tagging sharks and online safety guides and research. SHARK SMART gives frequent updates, as close to real-time as possible, to help beach-goers plan their outings.
Almost all of these organizations use manually implanted tracking devices that ping into wireless towers to signal each shark’s whereabouts.
Researchers are exploring clothing solutions to shark attacks. They hope to decrease the likelihood of shark attacks by creating new suits for surfers and SCUBA divers.
The new plan for surfers is a black and white striped suit. A common theory of why sharks attack surfers so frequently is that from below, sharks look up at the surfer’s silhouette outlined by the sun and they see what looks very similar to a seal – a long, rounded body with four limbs.
Hamish Jolly – a water sport lover, entrepreneur and inventor of this suit – thinks the black and white striped suit will reduce this similarity and keep surfers safer.
Although the suit has performed well in non-human testing, researchers worry that the suit only accounts for sharks’ sight and disregards other key hunting senses like hearing and smelling. The suit succeeds in making surfers to look like a less desirable meal, but they still sound and smell the same to sharks.
Jolly’s team also has a solution for SCUBA divers – blue suits. Jolly and his team believe that the blue suit will blend into the water and conceal its wearer from the view of sharks. However, just like the striped suit for surfers, concerns that the shark’s smelling and hearing aren’t altered by the suit still remain.
Innovative thinkers like Jolly and his team still have more work to do to make their ideas foolproof, but they’re off to a solid start.
Technology is Helping
With a spike in shark attacks recently, there’s heightened fear about shark activity. Luckily, technology is in our corner and we can continue to learn about these species.