The humble LED could help prevent shark attacks on surfers

Whether you’re a rookie surfer battling with ankle-busters or an experienced pro trying to kiss up against those curls, the last thing you want to see is a shark snapping at your heels. Or any body part, for that matter.

Truth be told, shark attacks on humans are pretty rare, but a team of researchers in Australia think they may have found a way to make our seas even safer, especially for surfers.

It involves the humble LED, which, when attached as part of a set to the underside of a surfboard, helps to hide the surfer’s silhouette from nearby sharks that would otherwise spot them zipping across the water.

The team at Sydney’s Macquarie University says tests with the light-emitting diodes in shark-rich waters have so far proved 100 percent successful, which is certainly good news for whoever’s been on the board. Just kidding — they’ve been using foam dummies to test the kit.

Nathan Hart, who’s been leading the research, told the Macquarie Lighthouse that to come up with an effective design, it was important to understand how sharks “see” as they move through the water, and also to learn about how the predators respond to their prey.

“Studying the sensory systems of sharks and what triggers them to attack, and how they might mistake a human for a seal was where it all started,” Hart said, adding, “Pure basic research can sometimes lead to unexpected applications and potentially contribute to life-saving technology.”

Hart says his team is currently in talks with a possible commercial partner, with a view to refining the design for use not only on consumer surfboards, but also sailing craft such as kayaks, for which the system appears to be equally effective.

Now, you may be thinking: “Well, it’s all well and good while the surfer is on the board, but what about when they’re in the water before and after riding a wave?”

Hart has already thought of that, and has led another team in the development of a wetsuit that’s camouflaged to deter sharks, which is great news for divers, too. Inspiration for the special suits, which come in contrasting shades of blue, came from research a few years back that suggested sharks are colorblind.

While die-hard surfers would never hang up their board for fear of a shark attack, these innovative designs could certainly offer peace of mind when out on the ocean waves.


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