How Close is too Close? The Effect of a Non-Lethal Electric Shark Deterrent on White Shark Behaviour
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Sharks play a vital role in the health of marine ecosystems, but the potential threat that sharks pose to humans is a reminder of our vulnerability when entering the ocean. Personal shark deterrents are being marketed as the solution to mitigate the threat that sharks pose. However, the effectiveness claims of many personal deterrents are based on our knowledge of shark sensory biology rather than robust testing of the devices themselves, as most have not been subjected to independent scientific studies. Therefore, there is a clear need for thorough testing of commercially available shark deterrents to provide the public with recommendations of their effectiveness. Using a modified stereo-camera system, we quantified behavioural interactions between white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) and a baited target in the presence of a commercially available, personal electric shark deterrent (Shark Shield Freedom7™). The stereo-camera system enabled an accurate assessment of the behavioural responses of C. carcharias when encountering a non-lethal electric field many times stronger than what they would naturally experience. Upon their first observed encounter, all C. carcharias were repelled at a mean (± std. error) proximity of 131 (± 10.3) cm, which corresponded to a mean voltage gradient of 9.7 (± 0.9) V/m. With each subsequent encounter, their proximity decreased by an average of 11.6 cm, which corresponded to an increase in tolerance to the electric field by an average of 2.6 (± 0.5) V/m per encounter. Despite the increase in tolerance, sharks continued to be deterred from interacting for the duration of each trial when in the presence of an active Shark Shield™. Furthermore, the findings provide no support to the theory that electric deterrents attract sharks. The results of this study provide quantitative evidence of the effectiveness of a non-lethal electric shark deterrent, its influence on the behaviour of C. carcharias, and an accurate method for testing other shark deterrent technologies.
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