Shark Week: Electronic Shark Shield to Help Keep Swimmer Safe During Record-Setting Attempt

shark photo

Photo by Rumbleteaser via Flickr CC

Controversy over how ocean swimmer deal with sharks was raised after reports that Penny Palfrey's team killed three oceanic whitetip sharks during her record-setting swim. Swimmer Diana Nyad wants to be sure to avoid any possible issues with sharks, and so will be wearing a new "shark shield" designed to keep the predatory fish at bay. Nyad, an experienced 61-year-old swimmer, is attempting a 60-hour, 103 mile swim between Cuba and the Florida Keys. So far, the swim has never been completed, but she is hoping to break that record -- and shark shield may keep her safe as she does it.

Nyad states:

Sharks have made news in recent weeks, from attacks near U.S. beaches to how they were treated by the team of a fellow ocean swimmer. There were some reports - denied by those involved - that sharks were harmed when Penny Palfrey swam in the Caymans.

I just want to be crystal clear about how my team will handle sharks on our upcoming attempt to make history in swimming the 103 miles from Cuba to Florida: No shark will be harmed at any time during our event.

An Australian company has created Shark Shield, a small electrical device that is built to annoy sharks, which are sensitive to electrical signal.

According to the New York Times, Shark Shield sends a 3D electrical wave that affects the Ampullae of Lorenzini, the part of the shark that can receive and decode electrical signals which helps them, among other things, locate prey. The pulses can be felt by sharks from as far as 30 feet away. While they may come closer to investigate, the Shark Shield's pulses become increasingly uncomfortable to the point that it can even cause muscle spasms at a distance of about 12 feet which, in theory, will send sharks swimming the other way.

Nyad states,"My dive team will first of all surround me with kayaks carrying electronic Shark Shields about 3 feet under the water. This electronic current does not bother me and does not injure sharks but does serve to annoy them...Picture me effectively wrapped in a 30-foot bubble of electronic pulses that repel sharks."

The New York Times reports that the $400, 1-pound piece of equipment has been shown to be an effective protection measure against sharks. The batteries last between 2 and 4 hours, depending on the model, so Nyad's divers will have to change batteries fairly often during the 60-hour swim. Even so, it may prove to be an invaluable tool for the trek.

Nyad acknowledges that the sharks may come in closer out of curiosity, and her dive team is ready to drive off any sharks coming too close without harming them. She emphasizes, "Again, let me state as clearly and as loudly as I possibly can: We will not destroy any shark on our way from Cuba to Florida. Our attitude is that these are beautiful, necessary animals. We need them. The oceans need them."

There is little doubt that if (and when) Nyad completes her record-setting swim, she does not want it tainted with controversy over the killing of sharks that were seen as a threat. For her to state so clearly before her swim that she respects sharks in their own environment is admirable. She'll be making the swim this summer, and you can check out her website for more details.

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More on Swimming with Sharks
Penny Palfrey Sets a New Ocean Swim Record...But Kills 3 Sharks In The Process
The New Way to Measure Sharks Without Becoming Lunch
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