Premier baulks at ‘electric fence’

Angela Pownall
Shark researchers at UWA facility Shaun Collin and Ryan Kempster. Picture: Michael O'Brien/ The West Australian

Colin Barnett has played down the significance of research suggesting electric barriers or bursts of bubbles could protect WA beaches from shark attacks.

Scientists from the University of WA’s Oceans Institute, who have completed a 21/2 year $646,000 State-funded research project into shark deterrents, believe there is potential for both to be developed into beach-based shark deterrent systems.

As revealed inThe West Australian yesterday, the research found the WA-owned Shark Shield device, which emits an electronic wave, deterred sharks, including great whites, more than nine times out of 10.

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“We’ve certainly had very positive results with the Shark Shield,” institute director Shaun Collin said.

“It does provide the potential for an electric barrier of some kind, whether it’s a whole series of Shark Shields or a slightly different design where a strong electric field would be produced over a greater area.”

But the Premier was less than positive. “I wouldn’t want my children swimming around an electric fence,” he said.

Mr Barnett said the research would help the Government advise the public on the effectiveness of personal shark deterrents.

“People should not be placing false hope in devices that do not work,” he said.

Associate Professor Nathan Hart said a burst of bubbles was found to be effective in scaring sharks, including great whites, away from bait.

“We’re hoping this can be incorporated into a barrier to protect large areas in the future with more research,” he said.

But Mr Barnett, the member for Cottesloe where there has been at least one fatal shark attack, said: “The practicality of having bubbles around Cottesloe beach, I doubt that.”

Shark Shield managing director Lindsay Lyon said research confirmed the technology worked.

He said about 30,000 devices had been sold worldwide and WA accounted for 35 per cent of its $1 million-a-year revenue in Australia.

But he said people, particularly in WA, still doubted the Shark Shield, which had a 4-6m range.

Some believe the device even attracts sharks.

Mr Lyon said there was no doubt Shark Shield had potential for wider beach-based use but echoed the Premier’s caution.

“There are significant considerations when putting up a beach barrier,” he said.

“You’ve got to pull it in and out every day, particularly with our strong south westerly going through, and what happens when someone with a pacemaker grabs it?”

Shark Shield’s website says it must not be used by people with pacemakers, pregnant women and children under 12.

Mr Lyon says Shark Shield has a $300,000 State Government grant to develop a deterrent device to fit in surfboard fins, which will hopefully be on the market by Christmas.

Professor Mohammed Bennamoun has developed image processing software that can differentiate sharks from other marine objects in aerial images and videos.