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A shark-deterrent wetsuit (and it’s not what you think) | Hamish Jolly

A shark-deterrent wetsuit (and it’s not what you think) | Hamish Jolly


Scientific breakthrough, the kind that can potentially save lives, can sometimes be lying right out in the open for us to discover, in the evolved, accumulated body of human anecdote, for example, or in the time-tested adaptations that we observe in the natural world around us. Science starts with observation, but the trick is to identify the patterns and signatures that we might otherwise dismiss as myth or coincidence, isolate them, and test them with scientific rigor. And when we do, the results will often surprise. Western Australia has had a particular problem with shark attacks over the last three years, unfortunately and tragically culminating in five fatal shark attacks in a 10-month period during that time. But Western Australia is not alone in this. The incident of shark engagements on humans is escalating worldwide. And so it’s not surprising, perhaps, that in July of this year, Shark Attack Mitigation Systems in collaboration with the University of Western
Australia Oceans Institute made an announcement which captured the attention of the worldwide media and of ocean users worldwide, and that was around the development of technology to mitigate or reduce the risk of shark attack based on the science of what sharks can see. And I have for you today the story of that journey, but also the notion that science can be as powerful as a translator as it can be for invention. When we began this process, we were looking, it was about three years ago, and we’d just had the first two fatal shark attacks in Western Australia, and by chance, in a previous role, I happened to be having dinner with Harry Butler. Now Harry Butler, who most Australians
would know is a famous naturalist, had spent a lot of time in the marine environment. Harry Butler is a precursor, if you like, to the late Steve Irwin. When I asked him about what the solution to the problem might be, the answer was quite surprising. He said, “Take a black wetsuit, band it in yellow stripes like a bumblebee, and you’ll be mimicking the warning systems of most marine species.” I didn’t think about that much at the time, and it wasn’t until the next three
fatal shark attacks happened, and it caused me to think, maybe there’s some merit to this idea. And I turned to the web to see if there might be some clues. And it turns out the web is awash with this sort of evidence that supports this sort of thinking. So biologically, there are plenty of species that display banding or patterns, warning patterns, to either be cryptical in the water or warn against being attacked, not the least of which is the pilot fish which spends a big slab of its life around the business end of a shark. On the human side, Walter Starck, an oceanographer, has been painting his wetsuit since the 1970s, and anthropologically, Pacific island tribes painted themselves in bands in a sea snake ceremony to ward off the shark god. So what’s going on here? Is this an idea lying wide out in the open for us to consider and define? We know that sharks use a range of sensors when they engage, particularly for attack, but the sight sensor is the one that they use to identify the target, and particularly in the last number of meters before the attack. It makes sense to pay attention
to the biological anecdote because that’s time-tested evolution over many millennia. But isn’t human anecdote also an evolution of sorts, the idea that there’s a kernel of truth thought to be important, passed down from generation to generation, so that it actually ends up shaping human behavior? I wanted to test this idea. I wanted to put some science to this anecdotal evidence, because if science could support this concept, then we might have at least part of the solution to shark attack right under our very nose. To do that, I needed some experts in shark vision and shark neurology, and a worldwide search, again, led to the University of W.A. on the doorstep here, with the Oceans Institute. And professor Nathan Hart and his team had just written a paper which tells us, confirms that predatory sharks see in black and white, or grayscale. So I called up Nathan, a little bit sheepishly, actually, about this idea that maybe we could use these patterns and shapes to produce a wetsuit to try and
mitigate the risk of shark attack, and fortunately, he thought that was a good idea. So what ensued is a collaborative bit of research supported by the West Australian State Government. And we did three key things. The first is that we mapped the characteristics, the physical characteristics of the eyes of the three main predatory sharks, so the great white, tiger and bull shark. We did that genetically and we did that anatomically. The next thing we did was to understand, using complex computer modeling, what that eye can see at different depths, distances, light conditions, and water clarity in the ocean. And from there, we were able to pinpoint two key characteristics: what patterns and shapes would present the wearer as hidden or hard to make out in the water, cryptic, and what patterns and shapes might provide the greatest contrast but provide the greatest breakup of profile so that that person wasn’t confused for shark prey or shark food. The next thing we needed to do was to convert this into wetsuits that people might actually wear, and to that end, I invited Ray Smith, a surfer, industrial designer, wetsuit designer, and in fact the guy that designed
the original Quiksilver logo, to come over and sit with the science team and interpret that science into aesthetic wetsuits that
people might actually wear. And here’s an example of one of the first drawings. So this is what I call a “don’t eat me” wetsuit. So this takes that banding idea, takes that banding idea, it’s highly visible, provides a highly disruptive profile, and is intended to prevent the shark from considering that you would be ordinary food, and potentially even create confusion for the shark. And this one’s configured to go with a surfboard. You can see that dark, opaque panel on the front, and it’s particularly better for the surface, where being backlit and providing a silhouette is problematic. Second iteration is the cryptic wetsuit, or the one which attempts to hide the wearer in the water column. There are three panels on this suit, and in any given conditions, one or more of those panels will match the reflective spectra of the water so as to disappear fully or partially, leaving the last panel or panels to create a disruptive profile in the water column. And this one’s particularly well-suited to the dive configuration, so when you’re deeper under the water. So we knew that we had some really solid science here. We knew, if you wanted to stand out, you needed to look stripy, and we knew if you wanted to be cryptic, you needed to look like this. But the acid test is always going to be, how would sharks really behave in the context of these patterns and shapes. And testing to simulate a person in a wetsuit in the water with a predatory shark in a natural environment is actually a lot harder than you might think. (Laughter) So we have to bait the rig, because we need to get the statistical number of samples through to get the scientific evidence, and by baiting the rig, we’re obviously changing shark behavior. We can’t put humans in the water. We’re ethically precluded from even using humanoid shapes and baiting them up in the water. But nevertheless, we started the testing process in January of this year, initially with tiger sharks and subsequently with great white sharks. The way we did that was to get a perforated drum which is full of bait, wrap it in a neoprene skin, and then run two stereo underwater cameras to watch how the shark
actually engages with that rig. And because we use stereo, we can capture all the statistics
on how big the shark is, what angle it comes in at, how quickly it leaves, and what its behavior is in an empirical rather than a subjective way. Because we needed to
preserve the scientific method, we ran a control rig which was a black neoprene rig just like a normal black wetsuit against the, what we call, SAMS technology rig. And the results were not just exciting, but very encouraging, and today I would like to just give you a snapshot of two of those engagements. So here we’ve got a four-meter tiger shark engaging the black control rig, which it had encountered about a minute and a half before. Now that exact same shark had engaged, or encountered this SAMS rig, which is the Elude SAMS rig, about eight minutes before, and spent six minutes circling it, hunting for it, looking for what it could
smell and sense but not see, and this was the final engagement. Great white sharks are more
confident than the tigers, and here you see great white shark engaging a control rig, so a black neoprene wetsuit, and going straight to the bottom, coming up and engaging. In contrast to the SAMS technology rig, this is the banded one, where it’s more tactile, it’s more investigative, it’s more apprehensive, and shows a reluctance to come straight in and go. (Applause) So, it’s important for us that all
the testing is done independently, and the University of W.A. is doing the testing. It’ll be an ongoing process. It’s subject to peer review and subject to publication. It’s so important that this concept is led with the science. From the perspective of Shark
Attack Mitigation Systems, we’re a biotechnology licensing company, so we don’t make wetsuits ourselves. We’ll license others to do that. But I thought you might be interested in seeing what SAMS technology looks like embedded in a wetsuit, and to that end, for the first time, live, worldwide — (Laughter) — I can show you what biological adaptation, science and design looks like in real life. So I can welcome Sam, the surfer, from this side. Where are you, Sam? (Applause) And Eduardo. (Applause) Cheers, mate. Cheers. Thanks, gentlemen. (Applause) So what have we done here? Well, to my mind, rather than take a blank sheet and use science as a tool for invention, we’ve paid attention to the biological evidence, we’ve put importance to the human anecdotal evidence, and we’ve used science as a tool for translation, translation of something that was already there into something that we can
use for the benefit of mankind. And it strikes me that this idea of science as a tool for translation rather than invention is one that we can apply much more widely than this in the pursuit of innovation. After all, did the Wright brothers discover manned flight, or did they observe the biological fact of flight and translate that mechanically, replicate it in a way that humans could use? As for the humble wetsuit, who knows what oceanwear will look like in two years’ time, in five years’ time or in 50 years’ time, but with this new thinking, I’m guessing there’s a fair chance it won’t be pure black. Thank you. (Applause)

100 comments on “A shark-deterrent wetsuit (and it’s not what you think) | Hamish Jolly

  1. Fire burns! We don't touch fire! Electricity shocks! We don't play with it! Jumping in front of a speeding train… See where I'm going with this? Sharks are meat eaters. We are meat. Don't swim where there are sharks and no shark attacks… Just as we don't go running in the Serengeti, we don't get eaten by lions!

  2. Several test have been done with blind folded sharks, where they still readily attack prey http://www.livescience.com/44572-shark-senses-hunting.html . That being said, sharks are multisensory hunters, they sense electrical pulses, vibrations and odors from prey. They dont rely on sight only!

  3. Great idea, but won't sharks still think your torso looks like a fish?
    I guess a quick death is better than bleeding out from losing a limb.

  4. So if sharks see in black and white these designs could be made in a lot of diferent colors that match with the same  brightles scale

  5. It's very cool to find that sharks, like humans and most animals I've studied, are maximally visually stimulated by gabor patches.  Ever go to an optometrist and take an eye test?  The square or sinewave flicker pattern they flash to test your visual sensitivity is highly similar to the skunk, which wants to be detected and avoided, and to the the surfing wetsuit shown here, which possesses similar properties.

  6. Aren't flies and similar type insects which feed on grazers, Zebras I am talking particularly here, also more apprehensive to feed on a single Zebra due to the striped formation on their bodies as well? They still get fed upon of course but I believe I have read this causes a minor relief from certain types.

  7. The blue toned crypto suit seems impractical to me. I mean wouldn't you be statistically at greater risk of drowning than being attacked by a shark? In which case it seems counterproductive to wear a suit that lessens the likelihood of being eaten by a shark by reducing the shark's ability to detect you visually, when this would also serve to make you invisible to surf rescue teams in the higher risk case of drowning?

  8. and also before governments go fishing for sharks i would advice to first take away all sharks in there own water.see childcare etc.etc.anyway if they want to get the trust back from the people.people see that government not punish people who work in government or attached company's.so long that not happen i will not give them a change on to get the trust back

  9. Box Jejjyfish kill over 40 people every year (that's 5 times as much as fatal shark attacks). However, there are no jellyfish-deterrent suits being advertised like any shark-deterrent suit.

  10. "ethical" Just put the freakin meat in the human shape suit that is "safe" to actually test it. Thats the only way you'll find out. 

  11. 1. Get shark repellent for all the dangerous species
    2. Hold them on a built in your suit
    3. Have fun in water
    4. profit
    5.????

  12. except one issue not discussed.  Predators use biological electropulse stimulation to hone in on prey and the reaction of prey electrically as to whether or not the predator will strike.  I did research on this phenomena in 1987 called TARGETED SHARK ATTACKS. My objective was to induce a shark attack on a live diver. (me) in a chain mail suit and behind a shield when an obvious strike was evident.  My hypothesis was; a shark is attracted to alternating negative an positive electrical output from the same individual.  Not based on the particular factor of fear but as a natural stress response.  And a response not always typical with every person.  My request to use Miami sea aquarium was denied.  Then a few years later I had discovered the information and evidence to prove my discoveries I sent them was in fact used and stolen by a famous oceanographer and scientist.  I used several uneducated terms in my description and for a scientist to use those same words and connected to the same institution is quit remarkable.  I say it was stolen!  The information gathered was not used except for this someone to write another stupid stolen information BOOK and stick another feather IN her stupid cap. My intent was to screen sailors, air men and divers to see if they emitted this involuntary signal produced by fear stress or even playful stress. Of course the experiment was hijacked and never to benefit man kind.  I sent the MIAMI SEA AQUARIUM ALL MY PROOF EXPECTING A POSITIVE RESPONSE.  BEING A trusting person and a person motivated by good thoughts; I was screwed. 

  13. Has anyone thinking this will work ever walked into a tackle shop and seen all the different lure colours available? I am pretty sure there are lures coloured like that suit that catch fish, there are plenty of striped fish around that I am sure are eaten by sharks too, many pelagic fish bet bars on their body when excited. these stripes may help a little by breaking up the outline but definitely no guarantee a shark won't bit the suit

  14. "Ethically prevented from testing humanoid shapes." No, you're just retarded. It wouldn't be that hard to fill a doll with meat and dress it in the wet suits. In fact, if your research is correct, this would only help prove or disprove your theory. The only reason you seem to be worried is if all of your theories and logic are complete bullshit; because then you would just be feeding the sharks food that resembles humans. To say your ethically prevented other than just being unsure and afraid is just irresponsible.

  15. Great Idea and I hope it saves people from Shark Attacks.  However, his attempt to scare the audience saying shark attacks are on the increase… what an idiot! if you consider the number of people in the sea each and every year (which is increasing much faster than shark attacks), shark attacks are amazingly rare… even the writer of Jaws regrets making it the way he did as it has scared generations away from the sea for something that is misunderstood and rare…  But the other side of this story is whilst we fish the seas of all living things, its not surprising that sharks are now seen more often and closer to shore, why? because they are hunting for food not HUMANS!!!

  16. What am I supposed to be thinking? Also: this talk content is worth about 5 minutes of explanation and pictures… There was a lot of filler.

  17. I think there is one flaw in the theory behind the 'camo' wetsuit that breaks up silhouette. Sharks use more sense than we do; their ampullae of Lorenzini allows them to see and track electrical currents given off by organisms. In other words, nerve axons are likened to an electric current. Sight is but one sense in a sharks hunting arsenal.  

  18. Only question I have is about board silhouettes. If sun light is shining directly above you and your board has a silhouette not that different from a fat seal, the color won't matter to a shark attacking from below. It'll still appear dark. How does one prevent this?

  19. Brilliant !
    I had thought it would have been bright colors like poisonous fish colors,
    But you tell us sharks only see in black and white,
    How did you determine that ?

  20. honestly, I think they should focus more on surfboard designs because the shark wont be able to see most of the wetsuit since they are on top of boards…….

  21. I think this is just one long-winded sales pitch. They are taking advantage of people's fear and making money on it. I was not satisfied with the 'science' they supposedly conducted. No links to anything and only a short video of two select encounters, as they call it. Although there was not any direct advertising, just the final outcome of people saying 'where can I get one of these suits', is the same end result as if they had advertised. I hope people don't buy their suits and get a false sense of security, then go out swimming and get killed. These guys are walking a thin line here. Ethically for sure and lawfully, I believe.

  22. It makes logical sense. Sharks often mistake humans as prey. By making the "prey" look different then all other prey it disrupts what they know and would stand to reason cause trepidation. Not to mention, those patterns often indicate in the ocean an animal that is either poisonous and/or not edible.

  23. Cool! Now just wear a full striped body suit while wearing a Shark shieldshocker and you got yourself an even lower chance of an already extremely low chance you'll get attacked by a shark in the ocean.

  24. I once saw that really works is a (Underwater) Waterproof Blue Laser Burn Pointer 1 watt = (1000mW) or 2 Watts = ( 2000mW)

  25. Why did they make the torso of the suit pure black? Isn't the shark just going to ignore the stripey limbs and attack the dark torso?

  26. If these shark-deterrent stripes work, put them everywhere in my humble opinion. No big black spot… I like to fish. Many of you know with these fish detectors, you can see under the water clear to the bottom. It will sound a alarm if fish are nearby or if you are in shallow water… They can design them to detect large fish I would think.. They already do… Why not put Radar on the bottom of the surfboard that sounds when large fish are in the area? Dolphins and seals would activate it no doubt… This would need to be tested of course. It might give the surfer a heart attack. On the other hand, some get a rush from fear. For those people, you could program it so it plays the theme song to Jaws. Thats only two musical notes, it should be easy enough. You could program it so, if those two notes are far apart, no worries… but if they get closer and closer and start to speed up, you better start walking on water!

  27. Biology in action. To those saying nobody will wear these because of the patterns, well, that's just the sound of the point flying over your head.

  28. lots of talking, but not even one practical test to show its effectivity………put the suit on, dive with sharks, THEN – if it really works – you can talk all you want….although in that case, why wasing time on bla-bla

  29. I'm no scientist, but surely the fact the physical silhouette created by a surfer and his/her board is not changed by a few stripes renders this entire project as little more than wishful thinking? If you've ever swum downwards and looked up at surfers or swimmers from below, the sun is so bright that you can't even see what they are wearing. Humans are not transparent – no pattern or colouring is going to hide the tasty-looking silhouette created by their body and board combined.

    Not to discourage more science exploring preventative measures of course, I just think this is a glaring question mark hanging over the whole project and would like to have heard it addressed.

  30. Comment le requin détermine si l'appât est comestible ou non ??? cela est inscrit dans son adn ou dans son expérience ?

    How does the shark determine whether the bait is edible or not ??? This is recorded in his dna or in his experience ?

  31. Considering that we don't Bob in the water but move around sounding like wounded fish but nice fat big ones…..yea…..fail

  32. I don't think this guy can get a better shout out than from this swimmer, this guy could have gotten bit so many times.
    https://youtu.be/vSgBWROAm10

  33. Won't work for me. The shark will keep looking for where the piss and crap is coming from…of course leaking out the legs and arms of my suit.

  34. ….. no one is asking the big question: what is the success after the four years that this video was released and if successful how can I buy five of these suits! Tell me!

  35. What about the exposed head, feet and arms? Also, why not test this in the water on something human-shaped? Especially with the specific exposure of these areas?

  36. If you really interested in deterrent from sharks contact Russian scientist Sergey Saveliev. He discovered that sharks come to a victim through air olfactory sensing. To repeal sharks one has to make an air around the surfer unappetizing. All your other ideas are anecdotal the best.

  37. I tried it, my leg is still missing .. somewhere off the coast of Australia .. at least I still have 80 percent of wetsuit.

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