How Can Patterns on a Wetsuit Deter Sharks?

posted: 07/21/15
by: Danny Clemens

The world is abuzz right now following surfer Mick Fanning's weekend encounter with a shark off of South Africa. Despite the frightening video, it's important to remember that shark bites remain statistically uncommon and fatal shark bites are even rarer: since 1580, less than 500 people around the world have been involved in a fatal shark encounter.

Nonetheless, it is important to exercise common sense when entering the ocean. During the filming of our Shark Week program Sharks of the Shadowland, divers and production crew donned specialized wetsuits that are intended to deter sharks from approaching humans:

Shark-deterring wetsuit
Sealight Pictures/DCL

The suits were designed by Shark Attack Mitigation Systems (SAMS), an Australian company specializing in shark deterrent technologies. SAMS' Craig Anderson tells us that the company's founders are extremely passionate about the ocean and dedicated to finding "non-invasive" ways to prevent encounters between sharks and humans.

One such non-invasive way includes taking advantage of sharks' unique visual systems, using breakthrough science developed by the University of Western Australia:

"Large predatory sharks are color blind and subsequently their ability to discern shades of grey is very good. However, the resolving power of large sharks is not good and therefore lines and shapes are not well-defined. This helps in explaining the hypothesis that most human attacks are the result of mistaken identity as a result of their poor visual ability to discern between different silhouetted shapes," Anderson explains via email.

Shark-deterring wetsuit
Sealight Pictures/DCL

According to Anderson, the patterns printed on the wetsuits take advantage of sharks' poor resolving ability: "The bands placed on the limbs of the wetsuit are specifically sized to be visible to large sharks and project an image of a shape that is not normally their key prey."


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