Research reveals what really deters great whites

Angela Pownall

A WA-developed shark deterrent device has been found to put off great white sharks more than 90 per cent of the time.

The Shark Shield, a device which emits an electronic wave, was the only deterrent among a range tested by marine scientists to have a “significant effect” in repelling shark species.

Premier Colin Barnett and experts from the University of WA’s Oceans Institute will today reveal the main findings of a 21/2-year $646,000 State-funded research project that was launched after a spate of fatal shark attacks in WA.

Shark biologist Ryan Kempster said the team tested the Shark Shield on about 40 great whites in South Africa to see if it would keep them away from a baited float, compared with an identical baited float fitted with the same device that was not switched on.

“Over 90 per cent of the time, it would prevent any shark from interacting at all, which is extremely good when you compare that to the control where basically every single shark would interact,” he said.

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Shaun Collin, Oceans Institute director, revealed another electrical device — an anklet based on the same principle as the Shark Shield — failed to deter many white and reef sharks. Dr Kempster said altering the variables of an electric field could make a device a deterrent to sharks, have no impact or even attract them.

He said people needed to be more critical of existing deterrents on the market because “virtually none” had been properly scientifically tested.

“It’s clear there are plenty on the market that people are buying and potentially putting their safety in the hands of, when not only do we not know if they work but there’s the likelihood they could attract a shark,” he said.

Professor Collin said the research also found “bubble curtains”, which could potentially be deployed close to beaches, initially deterred sharks but the animals became used to them.

He said they found the sounds of killer whale calls, anecdotally thought to deter great whites because they are one of their few predators, had no impact on the sharks.

Mr Barnett said UWA’s preliminary results had to be scientifically validated through the peer review process this year.