Researchers unveil device that scares sharks away

The gadget is called SharkGuard and is so unpleasant to sharks that it makes them swim away when caught approaching. It’s all for their own good.

The device emits small electrical pulses that prevent sharks and, to a smaller extent, rays, from getting caught on fishing lines by accident.

Engineers at the UK-based conservation company Fishtek Marine developed the device. Researchers at the University of Exeter tested it on French boats fishing for bluefin tuna.

The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, showed SharkGuard reduces bycatch, or accidental catching, of sharks by 91% and of rays by 71%.

Many shark and ray populations are declining due to overfishing, which in turn is partly a result of bycatch. Reducing bycatch could make fishing more sustainable.

SharkGuard was “remarkably effective” at keeping sharks and rays off fishing hooks, Dr. Phil Doherty of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation said.

“There is an urgent need to reduce bycatch, which not only kills millions of sharks and rays each year but also costs fishers time and money,” he said.

SharkGuard devices. Image by Fishtek Marine

SharkGuard attaches to longline fishing rigs and is powered by a small battery. It targets the area around a shark’s mouth and nose called the ampullae of Lorenzini.

The ampullae are packed with electrical sensors that get overstimulated by the electric pulses emitted by the device, scaring the sharks away from baited fishing hooks.

Trials also saw tuna catch reduced by 42% during the testing period, but that was true for lines with and without SharkGuard. Still, further tests will be carried out before the device is available for commercial use.

“We need further testing and development of SharkGuard, but it has the potential to be a global game-changer for the sustainability of longline fishing,” Professor Brendan Godley, who leads the Exeter Marine research group, said.

Engineers at Fishtek Marine are also working to make the device smaller and self-charging after each haul. Pete Kibel, the company’s Co-Founder and director, said SharkGuard “gives a huge sense of hope” for conservation efforts.

“SharkGuard is an example of where, given the appropriate backing, it is possible to roll the solution out on a sufficient scale to reverse the current decline in global shark populations,” he said.