Do Shark Repellents Work?

Informative Surfline.com article asks the experts


By Rich Holland

Do shark repellents work? That was the question Benjamin Eovaldi, Pell Thompson and Robert Eovaldi/Californiametalphoto.com asked an extensive panel of experts in a feature article on Surfline.com.

“There once was a time, not too long ago, when a surfer getting attacked by a shark was really big news. But over the past year, there have been dozens of attacks all over the world, from California, the East Coast and Hawaii to Reunion, South Africa and Australia…” the article begins. While the sheer millions of surfers across the globe make them the offical number one incidental take of sharks, kayakers share the exact same habitat as surfers. So shark repellents are of great interest to the paddle crowd.

In fact kayak anglers often paddle or pedal their way into even sharkier waters than surfers, since both shark and kayaker are looking for feeding zones where predator and prey interact. Then, as has been highlighted so often on Discovery’s Pacific Warriors, the underwater photographers who take photos of kayak fishermen and the fish they catch.

Former Kayak Fish magazine editor and current contributor Paul Lebowitz noted that he outfitted intrepid Kayak Fish photographer Aaron Black-Schmidt with the electronic SharkShield when Aaron spent frequent time in the water shooting amazing photos for the Aquahunter article. The Surfline story noted that one of the best surfers in history (and an adventurous traveler), Tom Carroll, is on the SharkShield pro team.

Carroll is still getting giant barrels and Aaron didn’t get chomped, but was it the SharkShield or luck or the right set of circumstances that left our photog intact and among the living?

“Given the recent shark hysteria, we polled a bunch of experts to see what they thought about shark repellents,” say the Surfline authors. “(Hint: most don’t trust ‘em.)”

Here are highlights from a few of the comments:

“I’ve never seen or tested a shark repellent that I would bet my life on. I just don’t think that we know enough about shark behavior to develop repellents that would be successful under a wide enough range of conditions and across a wide range of species. In addition, I’ve seen people exhibit riskier behavior because they believe the devices are 100% foolproof, and that is, in my opinion, a disaster in the making.”

— Christopher G. Lowe, Ph.D.

Professor and Director of the CSULB Shark Lab
Department of Biological Sciences, California State University Long Beach

“In short, the sea belongs to its denizens and we are ecotourists when we enter it… we can’t blame the critters if a bite occurs, because our playground is their dining room. Most surfers are already of that mindset, ‘Surfing is a wilderness experience that comes with risks that I’m willing to accept.’ Can I have an ‘amen,’ brothers and sisters…?”

George H. Burgess
Director, Florida Program for Shark Research & Curator
International Shark Attack File
Florida Museum of Natural History

“Regarding the so-called ‘innovative’ devices, especially the semi-rigid and the electromagnetic barriers, they could be of interest, and we have met almost all their inventors/developers in the past three years here in Reunion Island. Unfortunately, all of these methods are still experimental…We should also ensure that this trend of ‘nonlethal innovations’ greatly supported by the animal activists do not become a moneymaking scheme cashing on our fears and feeding the controversy by maintaining the illusion of a ‘magic solution’ that would preserve both predators and humans.”

Jean François Nativel
Ocean Prevention Reunion Association Secretary & author of an upcoming book on the shark crisis in Reunion

The complete Surfline.com article is well worth the click. Be safe out there.

A Guadalupe Island white shark cruises in search of its next meal. Photo Terry Goss, Wikipedia Commons

A Guadalupe Island white shark cruises in search of its next meal. Photo Terry Goss, Wikipedia Commons

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