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January 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 30, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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More Shark-Stopping Devices on the Market

do they work? And why do I think about goat implants?

from the January, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In the dive industry, people are always coming up with new devices to keep sharks from biting or attacking. At least once a year, we see a news clip or a press release of a gadget that claims to stop sharks in their tracks when a diver waves it -- or fins it -- in front of their faces. But to date, none has been proven consistently effective. Even the well-received electronic Shark Shield, used by some commercial divers and a few surfers, has failed some tests.

Do sport divers need such devices? Maybe if you're in the middle of a feeding frenzy at Tiger Beach. One diver was killed there a few years back, though it was more of a misplaced bite on his thigh than an attack.

But the people who really needed devices to prevent shark attacks were U.S. sailors during WWII. I've read endless gory tales of sharks devouring men after their ships were destroyed, even though shark repellent packs had been attached to their Mae West vests. The poor floating sailor was to squeeze the packet, releasing a noxious liquid that would dispel sharks. While the War Department dreamed it up, the chef was none other than Julia Child, whose first recipe was not for crème brulee or crêpes, but for repelling sharks. As the November issue of Mental Floss magazine reports, "Child, a worker at the Office of Strategic Services, was tasked with making a concoction to keep the big fish away. Her mix of black dye, copper acetate and water-soluble wax was used by the War Department for three decades, issued to sailors for self defense." Unfortunately, it didn't work well, if at all, but the Navy continued to use it because it gave sailors some peace of mind if they found themselves adrift.

However, back to the present, with two new shark-stopping devices launching promotional campaigns.

After Brian Wynne's mother moved from Long Island to Volusia County, FL, the "shark-attack capital of the world," he created the SharkStopper Personal Shark Repellent, a smartphone-sized device that attaches to a diver's ankle and is supposed to repel all sharks by noise. Wynne, 52, who spent 10 years developing the SharkStopper, says he has worked with marine biologists and shark experts to test it on different species and in various locations, including in "extreme circumstances," when the water was filled with blood and other bait to tempt sharks. Sharks came within five feet of the shark stopper but turned back when they heard the noisy device, Wynne claims. It is powered by a rechargeable battery and lasts for six to seven hours.

"We always believed sound can attract sharks, but it must also repel them, because sharks pick up the sounds of splashing and the sounds of injured prey," Wynne told the Daily Mail. "We found a particular frequency range and modulation that was effective against many species of sharks." He says the sound includes that of a pod of killer whales, and it scares sharks either because they are scared of those predators, or they simply don't want to deal with the noise.

Wynne was trying to raise $48,500 on Kickstarter to produce the devices, but was only able to reach $21,500 before the fundraising deadline ended in the fall. There's no update on his website ( www.sharkstopper.com ) on whether he'll be able to have them ready by January, as he told the Daily Mail.

In South Carolina, a father-and-son team created the Sharkbanz, a magnetic wristband that allegedly fends off sharks via a repelling electrical field. After "one particularly frightening day in the water" with sharks, Nathan Garrison and his father, David, were determined to take the fear factor from the ocean. After three years of research, and with the help of "shark repellent technology scientists," the Garrisons designed the Sharkbanz. "It puts off a field that really disrupts that electrical sense," Nathan told CNN. "It is really unpleasant for the sharks, but it doesn't harm them, they turn around and flee."

Father and son put the Sharkbanz in the middle of chum, then swam with the sharks. David said, "We did testing with ourselves at stake with three or four sharks in the water . . . the sharks do not like this product, and they want to swim away very, very quickly." Nathan added, "Peace of mind is really the heart of what we are trying to give people." Kind of like that peace of mind the floating sailors had.

So why do I think of a book I recently read, a 2009 bestseller titled Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flim Flam? Well, a century ago, a man named Dr. John Brinkely was running around the country castrating goats and implanting the testicles in men who wished to improve their sex life and gain eternal youth. If he were alive today, I wonder what he would be cooking up or hammering together?

- - Ben Davison

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