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Research & Initiatives

The State Government is supporting a variety of research projects and initiatives to gain a better understanding of shark biology and ecology by implementing (and investigating) various public safety initiatives and making changes to government policy. The aim is to provide everyone with useful information to make informed decisions about their water use.

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Shark detection and deterrent technologies

Shark detection and deterrent technologies

29 September 2016

The Western Australian Government committed $1.9 million to support the Applied Research Program – Shark Hazard Mitigation which has sponsored eight research projects since December 2012. 

Five of the projects have been completed with three projects still underway. All projects are aimed at investigating the development of non-lethal shark detection and deterrent technologies to further protect Western Australian beachgoers.

Preliminary results of three of the projects were released in June 2015. Research teams led by Professor Shaun Collin, Director of UWA’s Ocean Institute and former WA Premier’s Research Fellow have completed significant laboratory and field trials on existing electrical shark deterrents and potential novel shark deterrents such as loud underwater sounds, bright flashing lights and bubbles.

The deterrents have been tested in the laboratory and in the ocean in Western Australia and South Africa on a wide range of shark species, including white sharks. 

The preliminary analysis of the field trial data indicated that:

  • Electrical deterrents do not attract sharks.
  • Bright flashing (strobe) lights can be effective as shark deterrents and do deter a range of shark species from biting. However, the effectiveness of strobe lights appears to be restricted to strongly nocturnal and/or benthic shark species.
  • Loud underwater sounds (both artificial sounds and natural orca calls) were not effective at deterring small sharks in the laboratory and were only a limited deterrent in the wild.
  • Some bubble curtain arrays were effective in deterring sharks, but only for a very short time, after which the sharks become accustomed to the bubbles and did not hesitate to cross the bubble barrier. However, altering the presentation of the bubbles resulted in improved effectiveness in deterring sharks. Further investigation is needed.
  • The Shark Shield Freedom 7™ had a significant effect in deterring a range of shark species, including tiger sharks and white sharks, though further testing is required to be statistically confident in the species-specific effects.
  • The electric anklet device did not have a significant effect in deterring any shark species tested, including tiger sharks and white sharks.

Laboratory research has led to the publication of 14 scientific papers mostly on the visual and electro-receptive abilities of shark species. This information is vital when designing deterrent systems targeted to interfere with those shark senses involved in attack.

It was important for UWA’s results to be scientifically validated through the peer review process before members of the public could make decisions based on the research. In July 2016, the University of Western Australia published their findings of the Shark Shield Freedom 7TM. The report can be viewed at the Public Library of Science (PLOS)

Professor Mohammed Bennamoun’s team from the School of Computer Science and Software Engineering at UWA has developed advanced computer algorithms that allow for the automatic detection, identification and tracking of sharks from aerial videos. 

The system is powerful enough to distinguish sharks from other marine objects such as swimmers, boats and dolphins. The system also allows shark detection and tracking under challenging imaging conditions such as low light, strong sun reflections, poor contrast and fog. 

The success of the research has enabled the team to attract Commonwealth funding from the Australian Research Council with a five-year grant to continue research into automatic shark detection and tackle the more general problem of visual recognition of marine species.

Three ongoing projects seek to develop systems to disguise beachgoers from sharks, evaulate the effectiveness of imgaing sonar for the detetcion of sharks and develop novel acoustic shark detection systems. 

View the full list of research projects


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