The first round of Government research funding to reduce shark attacks has been given to scientists hoping to ward off the predators using bubbles, strobe lights and sub aquatic sounds.
Science and Innovation Minister John Day today admitted the research projects sounded a bit like an underwater disco but suggested they may also act as “bouncers” protecting WA swimmers.
“So long as the sharks don’t get past the bouncers, that would be a good thing,” he said.
Four academic institutions have been awarded a combined $900,000 as part of the Government’s $2 million fund to be spent over four years on shark research.
Two projects from the Oceans Institute at the University of WA will receive $220,573 and $222,221.
The first will further develop the existing “shark shield” which emits an electronic pulse said to repel sharks.
The second will explore the potential for repelling sharks using “bubble curtains”, strobe lights and sub-aquatic sounds.
Oceans Institute associate professor Nathan Hart said the science behind the proposed bubble curtains was similar to existing techniques used to “herd” fish.
“There’s some anecdotal evidence that it works with sharks,” he said.
“Just like us, sharks are afraid of certain things which are unpleasant to our senses. If you think of a bright strobe light going off unexpectedly you’ll often recoil from that.
“The bubble curtains are a similar process. A lot of animals are very wary of going somewhere where they can’t see or sense. The bubbles actually interfere with a couple of different sensory systems that the sharks have.”
Professor Hart said the projects were still in the concept phase but, conceivably, a long pipe could run along the ocean floor off beaches emitting a “field of bubbles” using pressurised air.
Curtin University’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology will receive $273,468 to investigate sonar imaging for shark detection.
Another team at UWA will get $203,234 to fund the development of computer algorithms to help detect sharks.
The four projects were chosen from 22 applications received by the Government.
Mr Day said the research would take two or three years. The State would share any intellectual property with the universities should any research yield a commercially viable product.