Science To Help Decrease Shark Attacks
Scientifically Designed Shark Deterrent Wetsuits, are they the future of surfing?
Western Australian based company Radiator Wetsuits, has launched a new range of wetsuit designs which utilise breakthrough science on shark sensory systems to develop combinations of colours and shapes to reduce the risk of shark attack.
The new wetsuit designs utilise “SAMS” (Shark Attack Mitigation Systems) patented technology which has recently been developed based on collaborative research conducted with the University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute and School of Animal Biology. The research was pioneered by Professor Shaun Collin and Professor Nathan Hart, who are regarded as world leading authorities in the field of shark sensory systems. With the assistance of Professor Collin and Professor Hart and the team at the University of Western Australia, the complex neuroecology of predatory sharks was translated into specific designs that disrupt the visual perception of sharks.
Shark Attack Mitigation Systems (SAMS), a biotechnology company founded by commercial innovators Hamish Jolly and Craig Anderson, has patent protected the SAMS technology for licensing to surf, dive and marine equipment brands for a range of products including wetsuits, dive gear and even stickers for surfboards.
SAMS has issued the first license for the use of the technology to Radiator which is well renowned for being the original developer of innovative lightweight thermal vests which have now become almost standard wear for surfers and divers.
Mr Hamish Jolly from SAMS says “The initial results of our testing has been quite extraordinary and has given us the confidence to release this range of suits. However, we envisage that testing will be an ongoing process over many years to come as well. We cannot say that our suits are a fail-safe protection against shark attack but we believe they certainly can assist without necessitating any additional equipment or cost other than what is already being used.”
In 2011, prompted by community concern of rising shark facilities are the increasing desire for practical personal protection from shark attack, SAMS began connecting dots within the large body of anecdotal evidence suggesting visual contrast, colours, shapes and patterns may impact how a shark perceives and engages with objects and other creatures in the marine environment. By way of example, for some decades Australian Marine Biologist, Dr Walter Starck has been an advocate for painting white stripes on his black wetsuit to deter engagement. Famous Australian naturalist and environmentalist, Dr Harry Butler shared a similar view as to this effect, although with yellor and black stripes.
Meantime, while studying marine biomimcry of many fish species, scientists noted the disruptive coloration of man fish species and striped coloration of parrotfish which live in harmony with sharks.
SAMS decided to test what principles might underlie this information, starting with the vision, neurology and behavior of predatory sharks. At the same time, Prof Shaun Collin and Associate Prof Nathan Hart at UWA’s Oceans Institute had just announced the discovery that sharks see in black and white, not colour.
In 2012, with the support of the WA government, SAMS commissioned UWA’s oceans institute to undertake specific research on shark visual systems. The report that came out of that research formed the basis for the redesign of the water apparel.
The new wetsuits use a specific combination of colours and patterns, providing two strategies for protection:
a) The “Elude” design allows the wearer to effectively blend with background colours in the water making it very difficult for a predatory shark to detect or focus.
b) The second “Diverter” design makes the user appear highly visible while using disruptive colour patterns totally unlike any normal prey. The Warning Surfer’ design integrates with a patterned surfboard design to render a full visual from below when the surfer is paddling or stationary.
Bob Lushey of Radiator says “Over more than twenty years in the wetsuit industry, the common question I have heard over and over again is ‘I don’t want to look like a seal. What colours don’t sharks like?’ Well now we know the answer to that question and its very exciting. We have been closely involved with SAMS in developing the research data into a range of marketable suits and are very pleased with the outcome.”
Whilst the end product may appear at first glance to be fairly simple, the science and research behind it is extensive. We’ve combined many variables and elements in response to shark sensory systems.
The designs have application for all water sports, including diving and surfing.
“Most importantly we are also focused on producing a very high quality, performance wetsuit at a competitive price point”, said Bob Lushey.
Since first releasing the first suits onto the market earlier this year response has been enormous. Whilst Radiator initially planned to just retail the suits directly via it’s showroom and website, the demand has meant that the company is now expanding the distribution base to include surf and dive stores around Australia and internationally.