Shark Attack Research Aims To Protect Surfers With Illuminated ‘Seals’

Many surfers believe that sharks attack because they confuse humans for seals, a theory researchers aim to put ot the test.

A number of shark attacks in recent years have made the shores of Western Australia one of the most dangerous coastlines in the world, yet a group of researchers are now aiming to protect surfers with innovative illumination designed to reduce their resemblance to seals.

Many surfers commonly believe that sharks often attack because they mistake humans for prey animals like seals, as the Guardian reports. According to Dr. Nathan Hart of the University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute and school of animal biology, little research has been done on this phenomenon until recently, as scientists are now comparing video of seals in Sydney’s Taronga zoo to surfers in an effort to understand why the predators might confuse the two.

“What we are trying to do is understand what the shark is interested in and what their natural prey’s signals are, to see if there’s anything to this myth that they mistake surfers for prey,” he noted. “If we find that the silhouette of a surfboard is an attractive thing, for a shark it thinks it’s a large seal lounging about on the surface, then perhaps by breaking up that silhouette by attaching lights to the bottom we can change that.”

Hart plans to test this method in South Africa over the months of May and June, luring white sharks from the large local population with seal-shaped decoys. By attaching lights to some of the dummies, he asserts that researchers will be able to prove that sharks will attack the deterrent-rigged decoys far less, indicating the technique could be used to safeguard surfers.

Other shark deterrents have been proposed and developed in the past, as KHON points out. These range from colored and patterned wetsuits and surfboards meant to alert a shark that a surfer isn’t prey, to an electronic device called a Shark Shield that interferes with the predators’ ability to sense electrical fields. As Hart points out, however, each of these methods share the same goal.

“I think it’s fairly safe to say that if sharks wanted to attack people there would be a lot more shark attacks, just because of the number of sharks in the water. Shark attacks are extremely rare given the number of sharks in the water and the number of people in the water, so there’s something else going on.”

Despite a public fascination with the animals, shark attacks remain exceedingly rare. As the Inquisitr has previously reported, researchers note that only three fatal shark attacks took place worldwide last year, although millions of people entered the ocean.

[Photo by Ryan Pierse/ Getty Images]