This white shark, photographed at the Farallon Islands off Northern California, has been tagged with an acoustic tag (front) and a pop-up satellite tag (rear) as part of the TOPP research program (Image courtesy of TOPP

Cape Town - A revolutionary new shark repellent using an electrical field to protect bathers is to be tried off the Cape Peninsula. Humans’ fear of sharks has peaked in recent years, with 30 attacks since 1960 in peninsula waters. Only six were fatal, but five of these took place in the past decade.

Geremy Cliff, head of research at the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, confirmed in July it had received funding from the KZN provincial government to allow it to pursue research into electrical shark repellent technologies initially developed in the early 1990s.

Electrical pulse technologies are designed to exploit the fact that most sharks have highly sensitive electrical receptors in their snouts, known as the Ampullae of Lorenzini. These tiny, gel-filled sacs sense electrical current from their prey at close quarters.

“The impact of shark attacks on coastal economies is a long-standing, worldwide phenomenon and not simply one that resulted from the hysteria following the Jaws movie,” said Cliff. “A spate of shark attacks in the Margate area in KZN in December 1957 (infamously remembered as Black December) resulted in economic disaster for the tourism industry.”

A similarly bleak economic impact hit Fish Hoek, in particular – resulting in an experimental 300m “exclusion net” since March last year in the bay’s southern corner, in addition to the existing Shark Spotters programme.

The net will now be deployed this summer, starting in the October holidays, and then on a daily basis, depending on the weather. Weekends, public holidays and school holidays will be prioritised.

Since shark nets were first deployed on the Durban beachfront in 1952 there has not been a single shark attack off the city’s beaches.

Cape Argus