New technology decreases shark attacks, increases catches for fishermen

Sharks are an integral part of the ocean’s ecosystem, keeping fish populations from exploding and getting rid of old or sick animals.

Sharks are an integral part of the ocean’s ecosystem, keeping fish populations from exploding and getting rid of old or sick animals.

But for fisherman, they are just competition and many don’t mind killing them if they have stolen their catch. Now, one entrepreneur has come up with a way to scare sharks away that doesn’t harm them in any way.

Ask any deep sea fisherman, many of them see sharks as public enemy number one.

“It’s literally every hour of the day we’re encountering sharks out here. It’s like nonstop,” said Capt. Billy Delph, who operates Delph Fishing Charters from Key West.

It’s a constant battle against depredation: when sharks steal and eat your catch before it’s reeled in. It’s the reason so many fishermen hate sharks.

“It’s definitely a frustration to deal with out there. It’s just one more thing,” Delph said. “You got the weather, you have all these other conditions, and then you have shark problems out there.”

Like many anglers, Delph is frustrated.

“Here in South Florida as it happens, it’s definitely going to put the animal at odds with the fisherman because we’re both fighting for the same resource,” Delph said.

Enter Sharkbanz, a product developed by ocean lover and conservationist Nathan Garrison that he says keeps the sharks away from the prey.

“It has powerful, permanent magnets, which generates an electromagnetic field, and that disrupts the sharks’ electrical sensory organ in a way that’s highly unpleasant for it,” Garrison explained.

It’s a small weight attached to the end of a fishing line that Garrison says sharks don’t like.

“It’s sort of like, I sent a really bright light in your eyes in a dark room. It’s not going to hurt you, but it’s gonna make you want to turn away. And that’s exactly what happens for the shark,” he said.

With a team of scientists from the University of Miami, Garrison championed the technology after his childhood friend was bitten by a shark while surfing off the coast of South Carolina.

“So, the bull shark came from below while he was surfing, grabbed him by the ankle, pulled him off of his board underwater (and) tore up his foot pretty badly,” Garrison said.

The bull shark let go when it recognized that this was not prey, but that got Garrison thinking -- sharks primarily rely on sound vibrations to detect their next meal. If something were to disrupt that, could that be a game changer? The seed for Sharkbanz was planted.

“It reduces negative interaction between humans and sharks. The goal is to reduce animosity, and it promotes coexistence,” Garrison said.

Sharkbanz is a magnetic band that attaches to your wrist or your ankle that basically tells the shark, ‘Hey, I’m not food.’”

“If they knew it was a human and not something else, they wouldn’t bite us. They don’t like the way that we taste,” Garrison said.

It was an instant hit with surfers and spearfishermen, who reported less scary encounters with sharks.

“So this is sort of like a kryptonite for sharks,” Garrison said. “And when they experience this, it’s like, whoa, this crazy moment. And they turn right away from it, because it’s overwhelming that sense.”

So if it worked for swimmers, surfers and spearfishermen, why not anglers? That’s how the Zepplin was born.

“So the way that we rigged it, is we rig it so it’s hanging below the bait fish,” Delph said.

Video after video shows sharks being deterred by the Zepplin. And though Delph was a big skeptic at the beginning, since using this new technology, he says he’s seen his catch increase by 50%.

Still, Garrison admits the Zeppelin doesn’t deter every hungry shark.

“It’s not a silver magic bullet, but it is proven to reduce shark bites off by 70% or more in some of the sharkiest areas on Earth,” he said. “While they can cause some issues, there are ways to coexist.”

Right now we’re killing over 70,000,000 sharks a year worldwide, and whether you love them or you hate them, the bottom line is a healthy ocean needs sharks.

For more information on Sharkbanz and the Zeppelin, click here.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.