Can these wetsuits prevent shark attacks?

Hamish Jolly (center) and his two wetsuits that aim to prevent shark attacks on swimmers and surfers
Hamish Jolly, center, and his two wetsuits that aim to prevent shark attacks on swimmers and surfers; frame grab from video

In a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk that is approaching 1 million views, Australian swimmer and entrepreneur Hamish Jolly shares the genesis and theory behind a line of wetsuits that are designed to prevent shark attacks. Shark attacks have been a major issue in Western Australia (the location of his TED talk), where five fatal attacks occurred in the span of 10 months.

“When we began this process, we had just had the first two fatal shark attacks in Western Australia,” says Jolly in the video above. He goes on to explain a “black-stripes process” that mimics the warning signs of many marine species, most notably a pilot fish “that spends most of its life around the business end of a shark.”

According to Jolly, sharks rely heavily on eyesight in the moments leading up to an attack, so after putting that knowledge together with the black-stripes theory, he and associates came up with two different wetsuits that they hope will prevent shark attacks. One, designed for swimmers and freedivers, camouflages the user, while the other employs the black-stripes theory, a la the pilot fish, and is designed for surfers.

A great white shark inspects, but doesn't attack, a chum-filled drum lined with Jolly's wetsuit material
A great white shark inspects, but doesn’t attack, a chum-filled drum lined with Jolly’s wetsuit material. Frame grab from video

The underwater scenes of tiger sharks and great white sharks reacting to different wetsuit patterns are pretty compelling and make a case for Jolly’s idea, but it’s tough to say how a shark would react to a human wearing one of his suits as opposed to a perforated drum stuffed with chum. Regardless, if there’s anything to Jolly’s wetsuits, it would be a great way to prevent shark attacks and stop the senseless culling of one of the ocean’s great predators.

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