File photo: Any shark longer than three metres snagged by the lines or found in the surrounding area would be fair game for commercial fishermen to hunt and kill.

Durban - The KZN Sharks Board is watching with great interest the new “eco-friendly” experiment in Cape Town to deter shark attacks using magnetic fields and synthetic kelp.

The experiment is being spearheaded by a team of researchers from the University of Stellenbosch, who hope to deploy their “Sharksafe” barrier at Muizenberg and Fish Hoek beaches at a cost of R10-million. According to research leader Professor Conrad Matthee, a prototype barrier structure has been in the water for eight months and has been able to resist waves of up to 7m.

Writing on the university’s web pages, Matthee said previous research had shown that several shark species were sensitive to strong permanent magnetic fields, and the latest experiment could help to protect bathers without killing sharks. Geremy Cliff, the head of research at the KZN Sharks Board in Durban, said his team was watching the Cape experiment with interest and supported any initiative which could protect bathers without having to harm or kill sharks.

He noted that the Sharks Board and the CSIR had been involved in a similar form of research dating back to the 1970s.

The early experiments included deploying cables in the surf near Margate to create an electromagnetic barrier. However, the early barrier experiments were discontinued because of the difficulty of anchoring electrical cables securely during strong storms and cyclone conditions along the KZN coast.

Cliff said electronics and electrical engineering technology had changed dramatically over the past 40 years and the Sharks Board was hoping to resurrect its research effort into an electromagnetic shark barrier system.

Commenting on the Stellenbosch research, Cliff said it would be interesting to see how an effective magnetic barrier effect could be generated over a large area of open surf.

Matthee said his team was hoping to persuade the City of Cape Town to support the Sharksafe project, which was currently funded by private researcher Mike Rutzen.

“We know that certain shark species, such as the Zambezi shark, are sensitive to strong permanent magnetic fields, while others, like the great white shark in Cape waters, do not like kelp at all.

“We saw how seals being chased by sharks swam into the kelp and how the sharks time and again turned away, not entering the kelp areas.”

Using these concepts, his team had developed a patent which involved magnets and pipes anchored to the sea bed to create a magnetic barrier. - The Mercury