A deterrent for sharks? Here’s how some stay safe in Cape Cod waters
An avid surfing enthusiast on Cape Cod, Jim Papadonis has seen a great white shark, and every surfer he dates has seen them too.
There was the one time he saw one completely break the water about 150 yards from where he was surfing. There was also the time when a surfer friend and colleague had a shark on his board right after riding a wave.
Although there have been fatal shark attacks in New England and various sightings in recent years, Papadonis, along with other members of Cape Cod Ocean Community Inc., have worked on various initiatives to help keep people safe, including the use of anti-shark technology.
Papadonis, along with the rest of his group of surfers, all use Ocean Guardian shark repellents, especially the one that attaches to their surfboards, he said.
Ocean Guardian devices, according to the company’s website, emit an “electric field” that affects a shark’s short-range electrical receptors. The electric field does not harm sharks or other fish.
“No one really claims to be 100% effective, but our point in this community is that every little thing we do is better than nothing,” Papadonis said.
The association is also studying other Ocean Guardian technologies, which are not currently used in this field, including one that attaches to a boat and creates a small shark-free swimming area around the vessel using the same electric field technology as the surfboard device. There is also a product that could create a larger swimming area with a buoy system.
While the biggest question in people’s minds is probably the effectiveness of repellents, devices using an electric field have been hailed by experts, according to the BBC.
Dr Craig O’Connell, Founder and President of O’Seas Conservation Foundation, said he had studied the types of deterrents possible against sharks and “what determines their effectiveness or potential ineffectiveness.”
“One key thing I have learned is that there is no ‘silver bullet’ in terms of shark deterrence,” he said in an email to Boston.com. “Sharks are complex and species vary at physiological, biological and morphological levels (among others), so that a one-dimensional (eg electric) deterrent is not a universal deterrent for sharks.
“Where an electrical deterrent may be more effective on species that may be more dependent on electroreception (e.g. the bulldog shark), that same deterrent may not be as effective on a more visual predator (e.g. white shark), “said O’Connell, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
Many deterrents do not have “extensive scientific research” behind them, noted O’Connell, and rely on shark attacks “being extraordinarily rare” – the likelihood of a negative shark encounter. is about “1 in several million.”
That being said, while O’Connell said he had not himself researched the Ocean Guardian device, he said it relied on scientific research and showed that it could deter sharks.
“With this, it is important to note that it is not 100% effective, so wear it at your own discretion,” he said.
Along with technology, surfers are taking other practical steps to help sharks distinguish between themselves and seals, according to Papadonis. Since black wetsuits can make someone look like a seal to a shark, some use white stripes to stand out. Others use black and white striped leashes, which are the tether of the surfboard.
“It’s a more economical way to prevent shark problems,” Papadonis said.
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Some put the stripes on the bottom of their boards to make them look different from the black shadow a seal might cast.
O’Connell also gave some advice for those looking to venture safely into the ocean this year. He advised against going swimming at dawn or dusk and suggested that you get out of the water if you see “an abundance of shark prey”, stay out of the water if people are fishing or chatting and to avoid murky waters. He also advised researching shark deterrents before purchasing one.
Despite various ways of deterring sharks, fear of animals has caused some to turn away from surfing in Cape Town. Papadonis said his adult children would no longer surf there due to the attacks.
“It makes me both very happy and very sad because it really is such a fun thing to do with family and together, and I miss them,” he said.
This is one of the reasons he decided to join the organization, he said, noting that he is focusing on deterrents that do not harm animals.
Yet other surfers have seen them while surfing. Thinking back to the time he saw a shark cross the water, Papadonis described it as “the most spectacular wildlife event I have ever witnessed”.
“All of a sudden this massive white tall made a complete rocket breach right out of the water,” he said. “It was amazing, it was scary.”
As for the friend whose board was bitten by a shark, he said the board was given to the Conservation of Atlantic great white sharks.
“Everyone I know has seen at least one great white shark, everyone I surf with,” Papadonis said. “A lot of these stand up paddlers see them often. “
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