Amid a recent surge in close encounters with sharks along the Central Coast comes a product designed to make the big fish swim away from people in the water.
The idea behind the “Shark Shield” is to literally shock the shark by preying on its powerful senses.
“The bite marks are identical”, says kayak fisherman Ryan Howell with a laugh, “20 feet-plus, it’s a big shark, bigger than my truck I can tell you that!”
Howell wasn’t laughing on Friday afternoon, October 3 off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base when a Great White shark came up from underneath his kayak and propelled him several feet into the air, the big fish taking a couple of bites out of the bottom of his small plastic boat.
“I didn’t get a good look at it, I was with two other guys who were right next to me and they got a really good look at it, they said it was like a plane banking kind of thing, it was massive”, Howell says, “they’re saying it was an over 20 foot Great White that hit the bottom of my kayak, I have two distinct bite marks on the bottom of my kayak that are pretty big.”
Howell wasn’t hurt and says it’s the first time he’s ever seen a Great White in ten years of kayak fishing.
“Never had a close encounter, don’t want another one”, Howell says, “I’m just glad I’m alive, excited, I’m grateful I’m alive and didn’t get hurt by it.”
Scott Wilson is touring the California coast demonstrating the Shark Shield to prospective customers, distributors and investors.
“What the Shark Shield does it actually sets up a field between two electrodes when its in water and that field surrounds the diver or the spear fisherman, the kayak, whatever you might be using it for”, Wilson says, “when the shark comes within the range of that field, its around a 15 to 20 foot radius, it makes their Ampullae of Lorenzini senses spasm and they will flee the area.”
Wilson says the 20 year old technology has been proven effective in independent testing.
“The most recent was done in 2012, independent researchers towed some seal decoys off the coast of South Africa where the Great Whites are known for breaching”, Wilson says, “the significance of that test was when they towed the seal decoys with the Shark Shield turned off, there were 16 breaches and 27 surface interactions, whereas once we had the Shark Shield turned on there were zero breaches and only two interactions, so a significant difference in the sharks being able to get near that seal decoy, so Shark Shield protected the seal if you like.”
“The probability of a shark attack is still very low”, Wilson adds, “but we are providing a product now where people who are in those higher risk areas can actually take a measure of safety to reduce the risk.”
The battery-powered Shark Shield holds a seven hour charge and sells for $599 for the surf version and $649 for the scuba and free dive version which is also used on kayaks.
It can be purchased through distributors in Florida, California and soon Hawaii or through the website www.sharkshield.com.
Ryan Howell says a Shark Shield might have made a difference in his Great White close encounter.
“I think it’s a very good possibility”, Howell says, “based on the video they have shown me of Great White’s coming from underneath like mine did and it backed off, I think it very well could have.”
“I think its something that is worth the investment”, Howell says, “I don’t want to have to go through that again, so, if it’s something that I can put on my kayak to protect me, I’m going to do it.”
As for the recent surge in shark encounters along the Central Coast, Howell speculates it might have to do with growing seal populations.
“They’re protected and the seal rookeries are getting huge compared to what they were a dozen years ago”, Howell says, “we have two huge seal rookeries on the Central Coast, that’s what they eat.”
The company behind Shark Shield says it does not harm sharks or any other marine life.
It says it plans to expand the application of the technology to surf boards by putting the electrodes on the bottom of the board.