People worried about a real-life Sharknado have a new way to protect themselves against shark attacks, and it’s as easy as putting on a wetsuit. Designed by scientists at the University of Western Australia and designers at Shark Attack Mitigation Systems, the technology was created in response to the growing incidence of shark attacks on the coast of West Australia.
Researchers have created two main designs to keep sharks at bay: one makes surfers look less tasty to sharks, while the other makes swimmers almost invisible to the predators. The designs are based on the science of visual cues for shark attacks. The sort of wetsuits that many surfers currently wear are usually solid colors like black, blue or gray — not a great idea if surfers don’t want to look like seals. To avoid looking like sharkbait, these new wetsuits are boldly striped in black and white to trick the sharks into thinking that the wearer is actually poisonous. The wetsuit for swimmers bears a blue design that blends into the ocean since sharks are color-blind, according to Shark Attack Mitigation Systems.
The BBC reports that preliminary testing funded by the Western Australian government found that tiger sharks passed on dummies wearing striped wetsuits in favor of swimmers in solid black. But while the makers maintain that the suits significantly decrease the likelihood that sharks will attack, they don’t make any guarantees.
Some scientists are skeptical of the technology. One shark expert, Cal State Long Beach professor Chris Lowe, told the Los Angeles Times that the thick-banded suits might be a very bad idea. Tiger sharks like to eat sea snakes, which are characterized by a banded pattern.”Imagine swimming or paddling around looking like a giant sea snake … I think I would just prefer to look like a human in the water,” he said.
Many conservationists in Australia are hoping that this technology, or something like it, works. The recent uptick in shark attacks — a ten-month period up to July 2012 was marked by five fatalities — means Western Australia is eager to make its shores safer. Last September, the state of Western Australia approved a plan to kill sharks that approach the shore, even endangered great white sharks. If the technology can help swimmers and sharks coexist more peacefully, it would be a relief for both sharks and beachgoers.