Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go in the Water, You Were Wrong


The best way to avoid being attacked by a shark is to stay out of a shark’s way. If you’re really so concerned, don’t go in the water, or face that fact that if you have to die (and you do have to die at some point), few ways are thrilling or as likely to turn you into a legend as being consumed/bled to death by a shark. After all, the only thing of any substance that you leave behind is your narrative. Might as well go out with a bang (or, more accurately in this case, a chomp). I’m just trying to present the positive side of the fact that your inevitable death may arrive via shark.

But humans don’t stay out of anything’s way. We believe our domain is infinite and so we put a finger in every pie, dip a toe in every sea. To work around the possibility of shark attacks on those dipped toes (and other parts), there are a number of shark repellants on the market. A new BBC report suggests that few of them are effective.

According to experts, magnets often worn around wrists create a buffer field that’s merely centimeters deep. Camouflage made to look like venomous prey like sea snakes is dumb because sharks sometimes eat sea snakes anyway. Auditory signals to mimic the sound of orcas (which hunt sharks) aren’t effective because the shark will just get used to them. Chemicals “derived from putrefied shark,” based on the idea that sharks will avoid places that smell like dead sharks, dissipate too quickly to provide any lasting protection.

Through his research on shark repellants in Australia (where shark-on-human bites are up) shark scientist Charlie Huveneers discovered that devices that emit electric fields are most effective in preventing shark bites. “By attaching the electrodes to baits in waters abundant with white sharks, they showed the [Shark Shield FREEDOM7] repelled them 90% of the time, but was only effective to about 1m out from the device,” reports the BBC. A meter isn’t enough to cover an average human’s entire body.

But noting the infinitesimal chances you’re likely to be bitten by a shark anyway (1 in 30 million says the BBC), Blake Chapman, a shark researcher at the University of Queensland, sees the psychological good in shark repellants. “These things may or may not work, but the chances of being bitten is so small, that if it’s giving you peace of mind to go out there and do your activity then it’s doing its job,” he told the BBC.

Whatever, Blake. Stay out of the water. Leave them alone. Go home!

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