Australian tech startups are using artificial intelligence, drones, and electric force fields to prevent sharks from attacking humans at beaches.
Bloomberg says US officials are closely monitoring the technological advancements because climate change is altering shark migration patterns and threatening to push great whites closer to US shores. In the last month, a man was killed by a shark off Cape Cod, the first fatal shark attack in Massachusetts since 1936, and another incident left a 13-year-old who was diving for lobsters at a beach in California with traumatic injuries to his torso.
Americans’ internet searches for “shark attacks” this summer has certainly been well above trend. A series of attacks have catapulted fear into many beachgoers, which is why Bloomberg was so compelled to find anti-shark technology.
Florida Atlantic University Professor, Stephen Kajiura spoke with Bloomberg about why sharks are attacking humans. The reason: climate change of course! Kajiura said ocean waters are getting warmer thus driving sharks to higher latitudes to chase prey. “Apex predators at the top of the food chain, sharks will always follow their nourishment,” he said, which means 1,500 to 2,400 lbs. great white sharks are moving into new terrain, including America’s northeastern coast.
“We are very aware of how close to shore great whites are now hunting,” says Cynthia Wigren, a chief executive officer of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. Wigren told Bloomberg she started searching for technology to thwart shark attacks after last month’s incidences on the East and West coast.
Her research led her to Australia, where statistically Australians have a higher chance of being attacked (odds of being attacked one in 2,704,600) by a shark than in any other country in the world, where a handful of tech firms have been developing ways to prevent shark-human interaction.
A new smartphone app debuted last year called SharkMate, it uses artificial intelligence to analyze 13 environmental factors that affect shark behavior, including time of day, proximity to a river and recent rain. This is combined with other data, such as how many lifeguards on duty, to calculate a surfer’s odds of being attacked on a given day.
The Ripper Group, a leading provider of strategy, training and deployment services for rescue drones in Australia, launched SharkSpotter, the world’s first autonomous shark detecting drone. The artificial intelligence algorithm uses sensors underneath the drone to detect animals based on their movement, speed, color, texture, shape and swimming patterns. When it spots a shark, the drone automatically sends an alert to all lifeguards. CEO Eddie Bennet told Bloomberg that the drones are operating along 15 beaches in New South Wales, and indicated the aircraft will patrol another 50 beaches in the coming quarters.
While SharkMate and SharkSpotter influence human actions; Ocean Guardian’s Shark Shield casts a three-dimensional electrical field around a surfer. The device emits strong electrical pulses that cause the shark to experience safe but unbearable spasms in their sensitive electrical receptors, turning the shark away.
Bloomberg said top leading shark researchers support these three technologies that could be the solution to prevent shark attacks at popular beach destinations.
Dr. Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, said the media’s obsession with shark attacks is warping reality.
Naylor oversees the International Shark Attack File and confirmed the shark attacks across the world are below average.
In 2017, there were 88 unprovoked attacks worldwide, and so far this year there have been 40.
The “sensational reporting,” he said, stokes fear in the eyes of the public and crushes beach towns.
Besides the massive housing bubble in Australia, its economy brings in nearly $120 billion from tourism. Australia has some of the best beaches and surf spots in the world. So the mention of shark attacks in the news tends to be negative for its tourism industry.
British adventurer, writer and television presenter Bear Grylls, soaked himself with fish guts and blood for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, dove into shark-infested North Atlantic waters (without a cage) and a Shark Shield. “I’m marinating in fish guts at their feeding time,” Grylls said.
In the footage, massive bull sharks encircled him, he said: “This may have been a bad idea.” As the sharks got closer to Grylls, the Shark Shield was switched on and repelled the sharks — proving on national television that the technology works.
This is where technology meets the wild, what could possibly go wrong?