Shark attacks and the publicised subsequent statistics are often sensationalised by the media thanks to the likes of cinematographic and literary productions such as Jaws, Deep Blue Sea and Into the Blue. However in reality, shark attacks occur relatively infrequently considering the human populations’ inadvertent everyday proximity to sharks. As the development and popularity of drone photography have shown, humans come into contact with sharks more often than they know, and often without any consequences or risk of attack. It is a well-known and acknowledged fact that your chances of being killed by a shark are less than that of being struck and killed by a falling coconut. According to the International Shark Attack File, “the real-life likelihood that you’ll have a close encounter with a shark is about 1 in 11.5 million”. Also, and perhaps the even better news is that fatalities due to shark attacks hardly ever happen as attacks on humans are largely accidental and can be attributed to humans being mistaken for another member of a ‘shark-approved’ food group, or as a bite taken as part of an exploratory endeavour.
In case the facts above were not reassuring enough, sadly – whilst the human population continues to grow exponentially year on year, the shark population is on the decline. George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History has surmised that “the shark population in the U.S. and around the world are at perhaps all-time lows” and that shark attacks can be attributed to the increasing number of people in the water, rather than a sharks propensity to target humans as a food source. Interestingly, “most shark attacks occur less than 100 feet from the shore mainly around popular beaches in North America (especially Florida and Hawaii), Australia, and South Africa” (National Geographic). For every human killed by a shark, humans kill approximately two million sharks. Despite the odds though, the apparent necessity to further ensure that close encounters with sharks are nothing more than that, many variations of ‘shark deterrents’ have been developed in the past few decades. One of the most recent developments in shark repellent technology has been a local one by Cape Town resident Collin Brooker and his son Simon, along with scientist Jane Fallows.
The dissolvable synthetic substance, nicknamed Podi, is designed to mimic the smell of dead sharks in order to deter any sharks in the vicinity and essentially protect bathers from any potential consequences of such an encounter. The substance is currently being tested off the Cape coast. The device has been described as a ‘tablet’ that will be fastened to the ankle of the bather/surfer and is designed to be a safer alternative for both the bather and the shark. The idea, according to Brooker is that “we don’t have to kill a shark to repel a shark. All the different chemical makeups are completely natural, biodegradable and eco-friendly.” As noted by Brooker, most shark deterrents are only effective when a bather or surfer is in close proximity to the shark, which already might be too late. But, considering the fact that you have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime (National Geographic Shark Statistics), sharks are far from the biggest threat out there.