Around the world, shark attacks are on the rise. In the United States alone, the number of incidents nearly doubled from 2011 to 2012, and there has already been at least one fatality this year. To combat the problem, Australian company Radiator has taken a unique approach: It has developed shark-deterring wetsuits.
The design of the groundbreaking suits, which go for about $460 each, is based on new research indicating that sharks are likely color-blind. The first, dubbed the Diverter, has the striped appearance of a poisonous sea snake or lionfish. The second, the Elude, aims to make its wearer invisible. “Since we know what sharks see in different parts of the water column, we can re-create those effects,” says Craig Anderson of Shark Mitigation Systems, which commissioned the research. “By matching the wetsuit to the palettes sharks perceive around them, we can hide in plain sight.” In brief, they function like camouflage worn by the military; future Elude patterns will vary by ocean and depth.
Some scientists are skeptical, such as George Burgess, head of the Florida Program for Shark Research, who believes stripes might actually attract sharks, since the animals see contrast especially well. But Anderson and his team at Radiator have some compelling field tests to back up their claims. In footage viewable online, they fill a plastic drum with chum (chopped organic matter thrown into the water to attract fish), then wrap it in a standard black wetsuit material and lower it into the ocean, where a shark tears it to shreds; when the drum is covered in a new wetsuit pattern, a shark approaches but quickly jackknifes away.
“We’re scientists who’ve been studying sharks for decades,” Anderson says. “We saw the results, and now none of us will go in the water without one of these suits.”