Finding better methods to deter sharks

PICTURE: Leon Lestrade/ANA

Imagine walking into the ocean, surfboard in hand and riding waves for hours on end without worrying about an encounter with a shark.

This thought might not be too far-fetched as a former UK family and founders of the Podi programme, now stationed in Fish Hoek, are developing and testing a dissolvable tablet containing a synthetic replication of natural essence of dead shark to deter sharks.

The culling of millions of sharks through the controversial catch-and-kill shark policy implemented by the Western Australian government in 2014, after a spate of fatal shark attacks, prompted Collin Brooker and his family to travel the globe in search of better methods to reduce or prevent these interactions.

His family, consisting of his son, Simon, a Rondebosch resident, and researcher, Jane Fallows were of the opinion that the current methods adopted by authorities which included fixed nets and baited hook lines were not only killing thousands of sharks and other sea creatures but was also ineffective and costly and had created an imbalance in the ocean’s ecosystem.

They were convinced that there had to be a better way to prevent shark encounters.

Collin said there are currently many devices used to deter sharks but all relied on close proximity protection and as sharks mainly attacked from behind and at a rapid pace, the ability to stop a charging animal was impossible.

He said sharks had been around for millions of years and humans were “new creatures” to them and our activities such as shark cave diving where chum is used as the means of attraction, teaches them that we are a potential source of food therefore resulting in more interactions.

Through their research, it became apparent that these methods of deterrence would best work at arm’s length and through smell as it is widely known that sharks are deterred by the smell of death of another, the team thought they would work on a solution with that in mind.

“Self preservation is key to any wild animal as they are aware that they can become prey to other wild animals so when a shark smells the death of another shark it flees,” he said.

While sharks can be cannibalistic, they don’t prey on rotten meat like crocodiles and are therefore not attracted by the smell of rotting meat. It soon became clear that in order to create “a dead shark smell” more sharks had to be killed and this is exactly what the team wanted to prevent.

Following research, the Podi team started developing devices that utilise synthetically reproduced essence of dead shark, preventing more sharks from being killed.

Collin said statistics showed that about 50.8% of shark attacks emanated from surfing activities and therefore the Podi devices would go a considerable way to afford-
ing personal protection to surf-

He explained that current technology had already been developed in the USA, however, to date was not fit for this purpose which is why Podi was in the process of developing and testing a more suitable means of application which could be inserted into surfboards and or leash ankle or wrist straps, thus giving “fit for purpose” pro-

The team’s research took them to the Indian Ocean island of Reunion which is currently under threat as shark attacks have made swimming and surfing there impossible, which has had a negative impact on local businesses.

Simon explained that this was due to the consequences of ecological and commercial influences which left all other shark species, except the Zambezi shark, extinct in the area, resulting in the sharks eating other shark species and being directly responsible for the closure of 80% of the beach to visitors.

“Tourism and loss to revenue income streams for those that derive a living from the sea is prolific and the whole ecology surrounding the island has been devastated to the point where the area is now classified as a natural disaster area,” said Simon.

In July the team heard about the interruption to the world surfing championships in South Africa due to a shark scare and decided to continue their research here and to study shark interactions off the South African coast and the impact it has on commercial operations.

“Since then we have travelled the full length of the east coast to further and continue our research.

“Having fallen in love with my original country of birth we decided to settle here to continue our research and testing in False Bay and to establish manufacture here,” Collin said.

He added that, given the complexity of the task ahead, which would take about 18 months to complete, the team had decided to launch a surf brand, Seadog sport which goes live on Friday December 1.

Proceeds from sales will go towards sponsorship of worthy causes such as Waves for Change as well as other disabled sport and rehabilitation organisations who assist people with disabilities to
surf and participate in water activities.

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