October 16, 2015

Could a Clever Buoy System Stop Shark Attacks Forever?

A group of scientists in Western Australia have developed the Clever Buoy, a new “smart buoy” designed to save the lives of swimmers, surfers, and even sharks. The team’s efforts came about after a string of fatal attacks around their home town of Perth caused panic and a culling of sharks in the area. Could this new technology be an answer to stop the growing number of shark attacks around the world?

With shark sightings and attacks on the rise in Southern California, the question of protection for swimmers and surfers doesn’t come up often enough. Most often the attitude from the general public is “There isn’t much you can do about it except stay out of the water,” or “It’s their home, not ours.” Both assumptions are of course correct, but lack any initiative or creativity. Fortunately, the crews at Shark Attack Mitigation Systems, Optus (an Australian mobile service provider), and Google thought outside the box. Their new Clever Buoy system acts like a sonar net that would instantly warn lifeguards of sharks in the area. So how does it work?

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A Clever Buoy relies on advanced sonar to detect shark-sized objects in coastal areas without harming them. When a shark is detected, the buoys relay a signal via the Optus Network to lifeguards on the beach.  The goal is to have a series of buoys situated a few hundred yards off shore that could effectively make an unbroken detection perimeter. In a place where lifeguards aren’t present, a warning light can be used to alert the public. Warnings can even be sent to a cell phone in the near future.

I know what you’re thinking. How will this sonar differentiate between sharks and other sea creatures like dolphins? “Traditionally, sonar has had limited success in being able to detect sharks,” says Hamish Jolly, co-founder of SAMS. “The Clever Buoy’s equipment utilizes intuitive technology that can be programmed to learn the details of what it’s designed to detect. It differentiates between the length of an object and its propulsion through the water using sonar signatures. It has successfully identified sharks during testing phases in Sydney Aquarium and the Abrolhos Islands, situated off the west coast of Australia.”

The nuts and bolts behind this project is the buoy itself. The yellow spheres are just over 55 lbs. and house state-of-the-art microprocessors and satellite transmitters powered by Optus. Each buoy is connected via cable to a sonar transducer that sits on the bottom. These transducers send out sound waves that detect sharks to a radius of up to 60 yards. The software powering the transducers are programmed to detect moving objects of 6 feet in length or greater.

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Co-Founders of Shark Mitigations Systems Hamish Jolly and Craig Anderson with one of the Clever Buoys.

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The sonar transducer pictured above sits on the sea floor and detects movements in objects 6 feet or greater. The scientists used the Sydney Aquarium for first trial runs of the sonar detection software. Photos by cleverbuoy.com

So far, tests in the aquarium and in the wild have been successfully able to distinguish between sting rays and sharks based solely upon their sonar signatures. “All sea animals have unique signatures based on the way they swim. It’s their fingerprint,’ admits Jolly. “The journey from here is to use these signatures, almost like face-recognition, to teach the software to hunt for the specific swimming characteristics of sharks.”

This non-intrusive method could be the answer to deterring shark attacks while saving the endangered shark population. Current methods of culling sharks are obviously harmful to the ocean habitat and seem to be a slap in the face of so many trying to save the creatures. GPS tracking and electronic tagging work well but only account for about 5% of the shark population.

Testing has undergone the final phase and the next step is securing investment for a full scale system of buoys. Seems like a no brainer for communities hit hardest by fatal shark attacks. There’s no doubt that it would make good use of tax dollars that are often squandered by other construction projects that only benefit the developers and corporations. It’s going to be interesting to see who’s gonna step up and implement this system when it’s ready!

 

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