Over the past few months the waters around Byron Bay were thick with baitfish, and to along with them with was a notable rise in the amount of sharks. There have been sightings everywhere, some from my own eyes, including on my own last 3 kayak fishing trips off shore. In fact, one third of all shark sightings in NSW this year were in and around Byron, followed by Ballina and Tweed. That made me somewhat uneasy – a feeling not helped when on several occasions I encountered that uncomfortable feeling of ‘being watched’ (many paddlers have experienced this). I had to do something about it.
Today the parcel arrived, with a brand new Shark Shield FREEDOM 7 inside. The Shark Shield is a shark deterring device, which generates an electric field that is detected by the shark via its sensory receptors, known as Ampullae of Lorenzini, found on the snout of all predatory sharks. The initial mild discomfort increases if the shark approaches the field, until it becomes intolerable. The shark will then veer away and leave the immediate area. It´s only effective on sharks and rays, normal fish can’t detect the field, so before you ask, no, it doesn’t intervene with normal fishing.
I’ve been waiting for this eagerly so of course I had to open the packet right away. It came packed well in a sturdy carton box. Inside I found the Freedom 7, a charger with different international adapters and some information sheets, inclusive the warranty registration forms. It came packed well in a sturdy carton box. Inside I found the Freedom 7, a charger with different international adapters and some information sheets, inclusive the warranty registration forms.
The housing has a big red switch to turn the device on/off, connection plugs to connect the antenna, and plug to recharge the battery inside the unit. The clear housing, designed for diving, is rated waterproof to 45m.
Inside there’s a green and a red LED, informing me about the Shield’s operational status , as well as the battery and charging status. The lithium battery is good enough to power the Shark shield for 6,5 to 7 hours, and withstand 300 recharging cycles.
The antenna is 2.18m long, flexible, and consists of a mesh like surface with two electrodes, one at the base, and one towards the tip. When both electrodes are submerged in salt-water it creates an electrical field with a 3-4m radius around the antenna – the “shark exclusion zone”.
Now I had to find the best way to take it out & put it to the test. Three ways jumped to my mind. One was to put the antenna down through a scupper hole, which is the cleanest way, with the antenna is out of the obstruction. The downside with this is that the unit is somewhat difficult to check and to switch on. I could also fix it on the side straps of my seat. Easily accessible, in view, but out of the way. Antenna just hangs overboard. Both these ways are easy and efficient, but have one big disadvantage: the Shark Shield is fixed to the boat.
I figured that I’m at greatest risk when I fall out, that’s when I need the Shark Shield most. So I had to find a way to fix it safely, practically & easily accessible, on me. After testing different solutions this is the one which worked best for me, easy to reach, in view but not restricting in any way:
The Shark Shield is fixed to a belt around my waist (actually a gimbal), and a clip attached to the boat makes sure the antenna stays in the right position, with the electrode submerged in the water. In case I go overboard the antenna can freely run through the clip and pull free. As soon as the two electrodes are submerged in salt-water, ( and the device is turned on of course), it establishes the protective electrical field. When the field is up & working, the LED will change to green, and assure me everything is functioning properly.
Now the for the million dollar question… does the Shark Shield work?
I’m absolutely convinced it does work in very most circumstances. Can I prove it? No, not yet. Thankfully! I can say the last 3 times I went out without the shark Shield I saw or caught a Shark. Since I have been taking the Shield out with me, I haven’t seen a single one. But that is not proof. As long as I don´t have direct evidence, like a shark veering away after entering the field, or an aborted attack on me, I can´t prove the shark shield works. But I can tell you what it feels good to look down, see the green light, and know that I’ve done everything possible to keep the Noah’s away. So one thing the Shark Shield definitely does is give me and my family peace of mind.
By Holger Goehr