Five-year high tech bid to beat shark attacks in Australia

An Australian region is set to spend AUS$16 million on a range of high-tech measures to help curb shark attacks on swimmers.

A great white takes the bait off the coast of South Africa.

A great white takes the bait. Image by Stephanie Watson / CC BY-SA 2.0

The state of New South Wales – home to the national capital Sydney – is putting in place a five-year plan to help cut risks for locals and tourists alike through drone technology, shark tagging and Twitter alerts. The local government plans to spend AUS$7.7 million for trials of new technologies for aerial and coastal surveillance. That includes aerial helicopter monitoring and drone flights, which will provide early warnings to bathers and help in tagging sharks as they swim.

They also plan to invest in twenty 4G listening stations along their coastline, which will be concentrated in “known shark attack locations”. Data from the listening stations will eventually feed into an app that has already been developed called SharkSmart, which allows swimmers check in before they dip their toes.

New South Wales is also looking at trials of barrier nets, drum lines and sonar technology to keep sharks away from popular bathing spots.

A shark off the coast of Queensland.

A shark off the coast of Australia. Image by Paul Fenwick / CC BY-SA 2.0

Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said: “We are proud to be the first jurisdiction anywhere in the world to adopt an integrated approach toward keeping our beaches safe.”

Shark attacks, while incredibly rare, can still have a major impact in keeping people away from beaches and sea swimming. New South Wales recorded thirteen attacks this year, with one fatality, compared to two deaths from three attacks in 2014.

Their SharkSmart app already provides advice on things to avoid doing while in the sea. Among their recommendations are swimming in groups, avoiding murky water, and not going too far from shore.

A common myth that dolphins in the area means an absence of sharks is also best ignored, as dolphins and sharks will feed together.

One definite warning sign to watch out for is the behaviour of other smaller fish. If they suddenly seek cover or appear agitated, then it is time to beat a hasty retreat.

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