Cape Cod

Surfers Turning to ‘Shark Shield' to Keep Sharks Away

The Shark Shield could keep sharks at bay by emitting an electrical charge

Shark warnings are the new normal around Cape Cod, so local surfers are turning to new technology to safely share the waters with the marine beasts.

"They're everywhere," surfer Shawn Vecchione said. "One day I counted 20 (sharks) right after I got out of the water."

It’s been getting easier for long-time surfers on the Cape to spot the sharks.

"I saw 20 in half an hour and I didn’t want to look at it anymore so I left and I probably didn’t go in the water for another month, at least," Vecchione said.

Vecchione has surfed the Cape since he was just a kid and he grew up knowing the danger of a shark encounter lurks underneath the seemingly inviting waters. His perspective darkened last year when body boarder Arthur Medici was killed in a shark attack in Wellfleet.

"Your life is threatened because we have lost somebody already and it could easily happen again," Vecchione said.

Now, the surfer is turning to the Shark Shield for protection. It’s a device that attaches to a surfboard and emits an electric charge to keep the aquatic threat away. The idea is to overwhelm a shark’s senses.

During a test, a surfboard was baited with fish and several sharks inched closer toward the bait. Suddenly, they scattered away after the Shark Shield was activated.

"Think of it as if you are looking into a very bright light," said Doctor Greg Skomal of the Division of Marine Fisheries. "You would turn away."

Skomal said sharks have a trait that’s unique in the animal world ¬— electric field sensors that allow them to track their prey.

"What the Shark Shield does is it overwhelms that sensory system, and it’s thought to perhaps makes the shark uncomfortable," Skomal said.

Although the technology could keep sharks at bay, Skomal warns the no one technology can prevent a shark attack.

"They'll give you some sense of security, but what you don’t want is a false sense of security," he said. "None of them have been demonstrated to be 100% effective."

"If it works some of the time, for certain sharks, that might be enough for the average user, so it’s really a personal decision," Skomal said.

For Vecchione, the decision to get back in the water wasn’t an easy one. The Shark Shield offered him some peace of mind, so he began to sell them in his shop. Now, he won’t surf without it.

"Now I surf only when it’s good, so I'm not in the water all the time," he said. "I’m cutting down on the odds."

He also takes on a more low tech approach as well — spray painting bold stripe on the bottom of surfboards. In nature, black and white patterns are typically a warning to predators to stay away.

"They're looking at it and being like, I don’t think it’s something I should try to eat," he said. "I just want people in the water to be safe."

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