Matt Moore wants to make one thing clear: He’s not an alarmist.
In his 22 years of surfing, he’s had 14 shark encounters – thankfully none too close and personal. But he has seen enough of the great whites to make it a “no-brainer” to spend several hundred bucks on the latest shark-repellent technology.
And after an eight-foot great white was caught off shore in Sunset Beach earlier this week, and a closure in the same area after a 12-footer was spotted on Friday, he might not be the only one looking to safe-guard a surf session.
He’s simply a realist, he says, who doesn’t want to take chances.
“I’m just aware of my surroundings. The mass majority of surfers that are out recreating, and there’s a lot of them, they are kind of clueless. They may have never had an encounter,” he said. “I’ve just reached my limit.”
The Long Beach resident spent years surfing colder, more shark-infested waters in Northern California, but now he paddles out each morning in Orange County on his way to work in Irvine.
He ticks off a list of times he has seen sharks while surfing.
There was the time he was surfing in Humboldt County, in Northern California, and just as he got out of the water he saw a great white eating a seal. He also saw two sharks while out surfing in Marin County, north of San Francisco – one of the reasons he packed his bags and moved to Southern California.
But even here, Moore can’t seem to shake them.
Three weeks ago, he saw a shark fin pop out of the water at Bolsa Chica. He thinks it was a 7- to 8-footer, similar in size to the one caught and released off Sunset Beach earlier this week.
Last summer, when Shark Shield introduced its latest shark deterrent technology – a decal sticker with an antenna to place on the bottom of the surfboard, paired with a traction pad that holds the battery – Moore didn’t hesitate to spend the $599 for the product.
“The technology, from an engineering standpoint, it’s light and there’s no drag,” he said. “You never really notice it’s there.”
The Shark Shield that Moore has on his board is made in Western Australia, where great white sharks have killed 10 people since 2010. The technology preys on the sharks’ heightened sensitivity to close-range, low-frequency electrical fields. Shark Shield has two electrodes that emit an electrical field that surrounds the user. When a shark comes within a few meters of the shield, the strong electronic pulses emitted by the device are said to trigger muscle spasms in the shark.
There are a few other products on the market that similarly tout the ability to keep sharks at bay.
One, Shark Spray ($29.99), is a product on the market that extracts putrefied shark tissues, emitting a “semio chemical”, or chemical signal. When released, the cloud of repellent sends a danger signal to sharks in the vicinity, indicating that a predator could be nearby, creating a temporary safety zone for the user.
Another product, Sharkbanz, was created by surfers Nathan Garrison and David Garrison who wanted a simple, stylish product for ocean-users who have surfed in murky waters, wondering what lurked below. The technology comes in a wrist band (from $55 to $65) or on a leash ($180).
“The ocean remains the last frontier on our planet, but we couldn’t believe that in the 21st century, no user-friendly solution existed to help ease our mind,” reads the Sharkbanz website. “After a particularly spooky day of nervous laughter and conversations about the weather to avoid the pointy subject, we decided to do something about it.”
The company teamed with shark experts and scientists at SharkDefense Technologies to create a magnetic technology to deter sharks from attacking people.
Sharks rely on their electro-receptors instead of their eyes to “see” what’s around them, the company’s website explains. As the shark approaches a person wearing Sharkbanz, magnetic waves coming from the band disrupt its electro-receptors and it turns away.
Of course, there’s a disclaimer. While the product reduces the risk of shark interactions, there’s no 100 percent guarantee the interaction will be avoided. While it could deter an investigating great white, they are the only shark species that acts as an ambush predator, attacking from a long distance at high speed. There is no effective way to prevent this type of ambush attack, according to the Sharkbanz website.
The technology was put into question after Zack Davis, a Florida teen who received a Sharkbanz for Christmas last year from his mom, was bitten by a shark while wearing the wrist devise just days after receiving it. He jumped off his board into the water, where he suffered a shark bite on his hand.
A letter posted on the company’s website about the incident cites an assessment from Eric Stroud, an expert on magnetic shark deterrent technologies.
“If the surfer did land on top of the shark or very close to it, the shark would have likely acted defensively to this. While accidental and certainly unlucky, this is essentially a provoked attack from the shark’s perspective,” Stroud is quoted in the response to the incident. “If the animal was cornered relative to the shore, the surfer’s body, and physical contact occurred near the shark’s head, the shark acted as expected. In a provoked attack situation, shark repellents are no longer effective.”
Shark expert Chris Lowe, who runs the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach, said he wouldn’t waste his money on the technology.
“After having tested many types over the last 20 years, I have yet to see one that I thought would work under the variety of conditions or across species needed,” he said. “Also, the probability of being bitten by an unprovoked shark is already so low, there is little way to differentiate the probabilities of any device significantly reducing that rate.”
Lowe’s suggestion: Save your money, keep using the ocean but be educated and smart about evaluating potential risk.
For Moore, knowing he has shark-deterring technology on his board allows him to enjoy his surf session without the worry, he said.
“It’s relativity inexpensive for the technology. It’s a no-brainer,” he said.
While getting ready to paddle out for a surf on Friday at Bolsa Chica, he noticed a shark fin pop out of the water, just before lifeguard confirmed a 12-foot shark in the water and closed the ocean for 24 hours.
He decided waves were not good enough to take the risk.
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