SharkStopper repels sharks with the power of predatory sound

The next time a sharknado comes your way, you could be grateful to have one of these devices -- now seeking funding on Kickstarter -- around your ankle.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
3 min read

The SharkStopper promises to let you surf without becoming lunch. SharkStopper

As is probably true for many geeks, shark repellent has always held a special place in my imagination ever since I saw Adam West's Batman whip some out from his utility belt to get rid of a pesky great white in 1966's "Batman: The Movie."

Though nothing so far seems to be as effective as his handy-dandy spray, inventors have made some progress in coming up with ways to keep human beings from becoming shark snacks. For example, the company BoatsToGo.com created a rash guard that supposedly makes you look unappealing to the great beasts.

Taking a different approach, the SharkStopper tries to keep sharks away from your aquatic space by sending out sound waves that sharks supposedly don't like. The device is worn around the ankle and triggers automatically when wet, which the makers say will help you in shallow water, warning that "Sharks can appear in less than 2 feet (less than a meter) of water!" SharkStopper just launched a campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds for production. A unit can be yours for $275, so for that kind of money, I'd think you'd have to be someone who spends a lot of time in the ocean -- or who just likes to turn the heads of beachgoers who will likely think you're a felon wearing a tracking bracelet around your leg.

"The sounds emitted by [the] SharkStopper emulate the sounds of killer whales in conjunction with our patented frequency overlay," the makers say on their Kickstarter page. Because killer whales are not friendly to sharks, the noise is supposed to keep Jaws and company away.

The makers say that the device has been tested with the help of various shark experts in the Seattle Aquarium, in the waters off of Mexico, and of Hawaii (among other places) and found to be successful against a wide variety of sharks. Unlike other Kickstarter projects that often don't have any third-party affiliation, the makers of SharkStopper say that they received a grant from NASA's Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program which they used to study "the underwater acoustics technology that SharkStopper deploys."

The SharkStopper is about the same weight as a cell phone and charges with a USB cable.

What's unclear from the SharkStopper page is whether the noises the device produces can be heard by human ears, or if they're emitted at such a frequency that only sharks can hear them. If it's the former, it might be a little awkward to take a stroll on the beach with the thing strapped to your ankle as it'll let loose a terrifying screech every time the surf laps at your shins. We've asked the developers about this and will update you once we know more.

One of the nicest things about the SharkStopper is that the developers seem to have a genuine interest in helping sharks, not just keeping them out of our swimming space. Their plan for doing this is twofold.

First, by keeping sharks away from humans in recreational areas, thereby reducing attacks, they believe the sound repellent will improve the reputations of the creatures and people will be less likely to want to harm them. Secondly, and more concretely, they are planning a "Phase II" release of the SharkStopper that will go on the lines of commercial fishermen. This is intended to not only keep the sharks from eating the catches, but to keep them from getting tangled in lines and nets, which should help reduce the real threat in our waters -- humans who, the SharkStopper team says, kill up to 100 million sharks per year "in the name of fear, sport, and cuisine."