Australian Researchers Plan ‘Clever Buoy’ Trial To Deter Shark Attacks

Scientists in Australia plan to institute a trial of shark-detecting sonar technology off Port Stephens, analyzing a great white shark nursery in hopes that they can help mitigate a recent spate of attacks taking place along the North Coast.

The independent trial, which is taking place this week according to the Sydney Morning Herald, will test “clever buoys,” a type of sonar technology that can potentially detect sharks as they approach populated beaches. Researchers plan to assess whether the technology is reliable enough to be used to safeguard the public, as other methods, like Eco-barriers that were installed at Ballina and Lennox Heads, have failed due to adverse conditions.

Marine biologist William Gladstone, of the University of Technology, Sydney, designed the trial. He explained that cameras would be submerged to observe the clever buoys while they operated, allowing researchers to determine whether or not the technology correctly identified sharks swimming by. The trial will take place over six weeks, though the cameras will have to be replaced every day, as they have a battery life of only five hours.

The area off Port Stephens was chosen specifically, as it is a recognized great white shark nursery, according to Professor Gladstone. Aerial surveys have confirmed that the region is an aggregation site for white sharks, making it an optimal spot for testing the clever buoys.

The technology has been trialed before, at Bondi Beach last summer. Professor Gladstone noted that trial was “promising.” Another trial will take place soon at Sydney Aquarium, with an aim to determine whether or not the clever buoys can differentiate between separate shark species. While great white have attacked humans in the region, other species can pose a threat as well, including bull sharks, tiger sharks and bronze whalers. Some other shark species, like grey nurse sharks, pose no threat at all to beachgoers, so it is critical that the buoys are able to correctly assess the animals that pass them by.

Using sonar, the clever buoys detect sharks as they swim past. They then alert lifeguards with an SMS message, revealing the shark’s presence. The technology is similar to so-called “smart” drumlines, which have been utilized to hook great white sharks off New South Wales, as the Inquisitr has previously noted. In contrast to traditional drumlines, which are most often fatal deterrents, smart drumlines alert researchers when a shark is hooked, allowing them to save the animal and relocate it.

Professor Gladstone observed that should the trial prove successful, clever buoys could one day provide an effective barrier protecting beaches from inquisitive and wayward sharks.

“If it works effectively and reliably, you could deploy a number of them to cover the beach entrance with a sonar beam. The message would go back to the lifeguards if a shark enters, and they would decide what to do.”

Three shark attacks have taken place along the North Coast in the past month, as the Guardian notes. The Baird government has responded to these incidents, along with the resultant public concern, by advocating for the installation of 100 smart drumlines. Legislation has also been introduced to allow the placement of mesh nets, yet these methods remain controversial due to the potential dangers they present for other forms of marine life. Protests against the strategy took place earlier this month in Ballina, but the local council endorsed a mesh net trial to guard against sharks on Thursday.

[Featured Image by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images]