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Is There Really a Shark-Proof Wetsuit?

April 28, 2014 2 min read

Just about every waterman or waterwoman has wondered if there is a shark lingering nearby during a session.  No matter where you shred, the possibility of a shark attack is very real.  An Australian company called SAMS (Shark Attack Mitigation Systems) has been busy developing a wetsuit that may give surfers extra protection and peace of mind.

SAMS, founded by Hamis Jolly and Craig Anderson in 2011, believe they have developed two wetsuits that will either deter sharks from taking a bite, or camouflage the surfer entirely from the shark's eye.  In 2012, SAMS commissioned Professor Shaun Collin and Doctor Nathan Hart from the University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute to research and develop scientific-based, protective wetsuits.  The wetsuits they developed are based on manipulating a shark's sense of sight.  According to their research, a shark's sight is essential when hunting prey in the ocean.

Professor Collin and Doctor Hart found in their research that just like whales and dolphins, sharks are colorblind.  This means that sharks likely detect animals and objects based on brightness contrast, and not by color.  Therefore, the wetsuit designed to camouflage the surfer is designed with a particular reflectance that matches the western Australian waters.  Oddly enough, SAMS' shark-repellant suit is designed with less science in mind.

"This design is based on the idea that most sharks don't like to eat sea snakes," Dr. Nathan Hart explained about the wetsuit.  "To adapt this concept for the wetsuit, we provided SAMS with some parameters for the width of the bands based on the spatial resolving power, or visual acuity, of sharks, which determine the distance at which the shark can clearly see the bands."

Others believe that a banded, bright-contrast wetsuit is the last thing you want to wear in the water.  "That striped suit that is supposed to look like a lionfish is about as nice a thing as you can do to attract a shark, because of the contrast between dark and light," Director of Shark Research George Burgess told National Geographic.  According to National Geographic, sharks rely on smell, taste and ability to detect sound to hone in on prey more than eyesight.

While SurferToday reports that scientists claim these wetsuits are not efficient in deterring sharks because they can engage in multiple senses simultaneously, these wetsuits likely still help surfers feel a little better when they paddle out to the lineup.

Shark Proof wetsuit

Sarah Webb
Sarah Webb

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