The future of the SharkSafe Barrier™ doesn’t look too bright

After a long day of fishing, sometimes you don’t want to take the dirt home with you. Instead, it sounds very tempting to clean up the fish right off the dock…both for a fisherman and what lurks below, waiting to snatch the scraps.

One such predator that takes advantage of this type of food supply is the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), a large species of coastal shark found in shallow subtropical and tropical marine ecosystems. Known for their ability to tolerate a wide range of salinities, and were responsible for both nonfatal and fatal encounters with humans. To maximize the safety of beachgoers, bull sharks are often targeted by local governments through invasive culling measures such as beach nets and drum lines…which is bad news for a species that doesn’t reach sexual maturity until its late teens. grows slowly and typically produces a litter size ranging from one to 13 pups. For this reason, the “terrifying” bull shark has been listed as “Near Threatened” on the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Enter the SharkSafe Barrier™. Originally by Dr. Developed by Craig Patrick O’Connell over the past 15 years, the Founder and Executive Director of O’Seas Conservation Foundation, Inc. and his team continued their research to further determine if this technology could reliably serve as an environmentally friendly alternative to current shark culling methods ( e.g. shark nets and drum lines). “Over the past few years we have seen this technology successfully exclude motivated bull and great white sharks from bait; However, due to funding constraints, there have been no attempts to deploy a shoreline on a larger scale,” said the Discovery Channel host and lead author of the study. “The goal was to achieve this type of deployment to determine how to translate the experimental results to smaller scale.”

The bull sharks in Bimini turned out to be perfect candidates for his experiment. The researchers headed to the Bahamas and focused on a spot adjacent to a bull shark feeding ground. When the sharks entered the area to check if there was a chance for an easy meal, the individuals were identified based on unique characteristics such as size, sex, presence or absence of a mark, color, presence or absence of fin damage, and presence or that absence of scars. GoPros recorded the sharks’ behavior as they swam in the three experimental sections: two control regions on either side of one SharkSafe Barrier™ area. Each trial period would last one hour; During this time, an equal amount of buddy was placed within the experimental region and the designated control region, and a mako magnet was inserted into the center of each region to generate a low-frequency intermittent pulse that served as an additional auditory stimulus to attract sharks. Statistical analysis based on 59 trials showed that bull shark swimming behavior (ie evasive maneuvers, entrances and passarounds) differed significantly between the control regions (ie unmanipulated areas) and experimental regions (ie SharkSafe Barrier™). In contrast to previous small experiments, 10 out of 16 sharks repeatedly penetrated the barrier and swam in an accelerated fashion once inside the experimental barrier region.

The results surprised the scientists. “Although previous small-scale deployments resulted in a highly effective barrier that could exclude bull sharks from the bait, this large-scale deployment revealed a much more inefficient technology. It was a disappointing result because 1) I spent so much time developing and studying the technology, and 2) so many people were hopeful that this would be a successful alternative to shark culling approaches,” he lamented. “However, we learned tremendously from the study and developed a novel barrier known as the exclusion barrier. We will have a peer-reviewed release shortly – but the new system is exciting and could have a future in protecting sharks and beachgoers.”

Shark Safe or Shark Deterrent technology can be quite polarizing. Many have reviewed the evidence behind popular electric, magnetic, acoustic and other types of products…but the jury is still out as few have been scientifically proven to work (for some types, not all). O’Connell is one of those scientists who doesn’t believe this type of technology has a future, although he is proud of how far the SharkSafe Barrier™ has come and believes it has helped raise awareness at large Public awareness of the associated adverse effects to sharpen current shark control measures. “Our scientific findings reveal a major flaw in technology that, over time, will inevitably result in sharks continuously penetrating the barrier. This has not only been observed in bull sharks, but also twice in great white sharks in Gansbaai, South Africa. [But] in science even our failures are successes. We can use and learn from the data collected from this study and use it to advance our field. ”

Should Exclusion Barrier technology continue to be successful, O’Connell and his nonprofit have committed to raising funds to cover the cost of materials and deployment of the barrier. “In the past, local communities have consistently expressed disinterest in the SharkSafe barrier and other less invasive shark repellency technologies due to their inherent costs, and therefore my organization has learned and made this new technology even more accessible,” he said. “We don’t want the price of an environmentally friendly technology to be an obstacle to stopping the barbaric practice of shark culling. Should we continue to get promising results, we hope this barrier can help make shark culling a thing of the past. But… only time and experimentation will tell.”

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