Scientists have designed a new type of camouflage wetsuit that is designed to make ocean swimmers invisible to sharks.
Since 1791, there have been at least 876 shark attacks in Australia. That's not a huge number for more than 200 years, but with a 29 per cent fatality rate, lessening or even preventing the number of attacks can only be a good thing.
That may just be a possibility now, thanks to the work of scientists at the University of Western Australia's Ocean Institute, who have been studying shark vision for two years, and Shark Attack Mitigation Systems (SAMS). Together, they've designed two new wetsuits that make the wearer unpalatable to sharks.
The two suits each feature a different kind of patterning.
The first, "Elude", is for divers and swimmers, and is designed to make the wearer "invisible" through the use of camouflage. Although sharks use smell and weak electrical fields to detect prey, vision is the most important of the shark's senses when it enters the final stages of attack. The patterning on the Elude wetsuit uses a disruptive pattern that is difficult for a colour-blind shark to see, as well as colour schemes that blend into the ocean — so, although the shark may be aware of the human presence, it won't be able to see them.
The second pattern, "Diverter", designed for surfers, is the opposite in terms of visibility, patterned with bold black-and-white stripes. Although sharks are colour blind, they have very sharp perception when it comes to shading. The patterning on the Diverter suit is based on boldly patterned sea creatures that use their banded colouration as a warning to predators that they are venomous; and, indeed, sharks tend to avoid eating striped fish. Diverter presents the wearer as unpalatable — and possibly even toxic — to a hungry shark.
Both suits are still undergoing testing as chum-filled bags, but preliminary results have shown the suits to be highly effective — so much so that the suits are already available for pre-order through surf brand Radiator from AU$429, with an expected arrival date of 9 October. Surfers can also snap up a Diverter sticker for their surfboard from AU$69, arriving on 15 August.