Do chili peppers work as shark repellant?

posted: 04/11/12
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As seen in "MythBusters: Jaws II."

Finding: BUSTED

Explanation: Long ago, the Kuna Indian tribe of Panama came up with a spicy solution to fending off sharks, which they still employ today. According to the late Jean Andrews, an author, cook and pepper expert, the Kuna people dangle strings of chili peppers behind their boats as a natural shark deterrent.

But when MythBusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage hosted an underwater pepper party for a swarm of sharks, the repellent theory didn't float.

Peppers get their heat from the chemical capsaicin. And since different peppers contain different amounts of capsaicin, their relative degree of spice is ranked according to units of heat called Scovilles. Habanero peppers, for instance, fall in mid-range at 300,000 Scovilles. To test capsaicin as a shark repellent, the MythBusters team juiced a bag of hot habaneros and filled up balloons with the pepper concentrate and water. Next, they attached the peppery balloons to a bait box inside a shark swimming pool to see whether the capsaicin contents would deter the feeding fish.

Even after the sharks bit through the balloons and swam through the spicy remains, they weren't fazed in the slightest. Though capsaicin burns like fire on human flesh, sharks apparently don't have the same nerve receptors and can't feel the chemical heat.

Looks like the shark-wary Kuna Indians may have been sailing along on pure luck all these years.

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