'Smell of death' tested as shark repellent

22 November 2017 - 16:40 By Petru Saal
Image: ESTHER JACOBS OVERBEEKE

A synthetic substance that dissolves in water to mimic the smell of dead sharks is being tested off the Cape coast. It is designed to protect bathers from the apex predators.

Cape Town resident Collin Brooker and his son Simon have teamed up with scientist Jane Fallows to produce a new type of shark repellent‚ dubbed the Podi.

The device‚ described as a tablet that can be fastened around the ankle of a bather or surfer‚ is seen as an alternative to harming the creatures in order to protect bathers.

“It is well-known that sharks move away from the smell of a dead shark‚ particularly a decaying shark. Current technology works on the biochemistry where a dead shark is boiled down‚ turned into a gel and used to repel sharks‚” said Brooker.

“We have identified the particular structures [of that smell] and we have synthetically reproduced all the compounds that make up the smell of a dead shark. We don’t have to kill a shark to repel a shark. All the different chemical make-ups are completely natural. Therefore there is no toxicity into the ocean. It is completely natural‚ biodegradable and eco-friendly‚” said Brooker.

He said that current shark repellents were based a bather needing to be in close proximity to a shark. Brooker said that by this time it may be too late to save your life.

“If you take a 360 pound tiger shark you can have a shotgun on you and you still wouldn’t be able to stop it‚ because it is going at high speed and its mouth is already open. A biochemical product that is currently available has to be activated by the [swimmer]. We have taken a different approach: we want to make the shark think to not go to an area that it is travelling towards‚” said Brooker.

Brooker said a shark could smell up to three kilometres and this device would deter a shark from more than 1 000 metres away.

“Before it even sees the person we want to prevent it from coming to the person. By testing it in the ocean next week we want to make sure that it is as effective as the real smell of a decaying shark. The indication that we have now is that it should be no different to the real thing‚” he added.

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