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Shark Cull: Striped Wetsuits To Cut Fatalities
Scientists in Australia are hoping new technology linked to an understanding of how sharks view the world in black and white could help turn the tide of both human and shark fatalities.
Researchers have been working on practical protection following an increased number of shark attacks in the country.
Western Australia last month began a controversial shark cull programme, prompted by seven fatal attacks in three years.
The cull has triggered an emotional debate, with campaigners saying it is not the answer and insisting people need to change their behaviour and learn to share the ocean with sharks.
Perth-based Shark Attack Mitigation Systems (SAMS), in collaboration with the University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute and School of Animal Biology, has developed new technology enabling the manufacture of marine apparel designs they claim repels sharks.
The designers hope the black and white striped patterns will help decrease the number of attacks on humans and thus avoid the need for a cull.
The patterns have already been incorporated into neoprene materials and commercial prototype wetsuit designs, and will soon be integrated into swimwear.
SAMS director Craig Anderson explained to Sky News how the designs determine what predatory sharks can see, at certain depths and distances and under certain light and water conditions.
He said: "We determined recently that - particularly in the large predatory sharks - they are colour blind so that they only see in black and white and it's really being built on from that, plus the information we've learnt from sequencing the visual system of the shark and how they perceive different patterns and different colours.
"The designs hide the wearer of the wetsuit or water craft making the shape more cryptic which in turn confuses the sharks, minimising the chance the wearer or object will be mistaken for normal food."
Mr Anderson said enquiries about the new technology were already coming from other areas around the world where shark-human interaction is on the rise, such as South Africa, California and Florida.
In Hawaii, there has been a surge in sales of a separate product that also promises to help keep the predators away.
Swimmers have been strapping devices that emit electric pulses on to their ankles or their surf boards.
And, back in Australia, a Twitter feed warning where sharks have been spotted is also aiming to prevent casualties.
But all this new technology and science may not spell the end of a cull, as Mr Anderson explained.
"We've been live testing with sharks for over a year now.
"While it's going to take as many years to get a large sample size that will stand up to robust scientific methodology, the early tests that we've undertaken have provided much stronger evidence than what we ever expected.
"Given the spate of increased shark attacks, particularly in our part of the world in southwest Western Australia, we feel obligated that we should bring the products to market earlier than what we initially intended to.
"Despite the fear and anxiety we do have of the species, they are magnificent animals and we know so so little about them.
"It is really critical that we as humans learn as much as possible about them as our interactions with them will become more - we are seeing that globally - so we certainly need more science and more commercial interest for us to be able to address the issue."
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