FISH TALE?

posted by / News / August 5, 2004

Imagine South Africa’s Nahoon Reef, one of the world’s most shark-infested line-ups. You’re the only surfer in the water as the last slit of orange sun stretches like an evil grin over the horizon, reminding you of the 3,000-toothed beasts that lurk somewhere underneath your board.

Suicide?

Probably today. But within the next few years, marine researchers are hoping to perfect a repellent that will allow you to surf without the fear of never being able to buy a complete set of sandals again. In an inside interview, Michael Herrmann discloses the details about the A-2 shark repellent currently under development, which is stirring ocean hobbyists of all sorts into an eager frenzy.

It’s July in South Bimini, the closest Bahama island to the US, and the heat is palpable. While most visitors are enjoying their time sun bathing or exploring the tropical reefs, Michael Herrmann, a 35 year-old electrical and computer scientist from Oak Ridge NJ, along with a team of researchers has just finished conducting the first underwater repellent test on seven Caribbean Reef and Black Nose sharks.

“It was pretty amazing,” says Herrmann. “These 6 to 7-foot long sharks high-tailed it out of our area when we shot about {{{200}}} milliliters worth — a soda can’s worth — of repellent into the water. The fish stayed, you know, they all stayed and just kept feeding on the chum. It was amazing. In this particular case, the sharks were gone for about 45 minutes and remained out of visual range.”

Shark Defense, a team of six researchers (Michael Herrmann, Gene Stroud, Dr. Gruber, Grant Johnson, Brian Franks and Joy Young) working under the leadership of Eric Stroud, was born during the Year of the Shark in 2001 when rampant media coverage had shark phobia at an all time high. The group’s goal seemed simple enough: to produce an effective shark repellent. Yet, this “simple” aspiration has eluded scientists for over fifty years. A-2 is the team’s second recipe attempt, and the current brainchild of Shark Defense’s collective efforts.

“We originally isolated and extracted the chemicals from a dead shark,” Herrmann {{{recalls}}}. “But now the chemical compound has been fully synthesized into an organic liquid formula.”Sharks, which can smell one part of blood per 10 million parts of water (a drop in an Olympic sized pool) up to a mile a way in the ocean, detect A-2 using their keen olfactory senses. Herrmann explains how Shark Defense hypothesizes that the chemical compound used to ward of these predators in A-2 produces a natural semiochemical inherent in the shark’s biology, which induces a fear response in its brain.At present, Herrmann and his team have only had to use one type of formulation to keep the sharks away. It has already tested successful on the Nurse, Lemon, Black Tip, and Reef sharks. The tests that are still in progress on Bull and Blue sharks are looking good, and plans for future tests on the infamous White and Tiger sharks are already being drafted to take place within the year.

“It’s called a Johnson-Baldrige test.” Herrmann explains. “We protect a fish head hanging from a tripod in shark infested waters for two hours by dripping a repellent. One milliliter per minute. That’s like a drop in the bucket every second. It’s nothing. If you were to put that in water you would never taste it. But the sharks can.”Many surfers, however, might be surprised to discover that the product goal of A-2 was not invented with them in mind. According to Herrmann, “Our initial product goal is more intended to protect underwater equipment damage and to reduce the shark by-catch from fishing boats. Human products are still far off into the future and a lot more research is required. But theoretically, you could put a half a gallon pack on a board, wet suit, or even sun-screen and it would drip out the whole time you are out there.”Sounds good. But until theories become grounded in reality, those carefree afternoon sessions at places like Nahoon Reef will just have to wait for science to catches up with guts. Daniel Brown

For additional information Click here.

Photo courtesy of Eastern Surf Magazine. For non-stop East Coast coverage, go to www.easternsurf.com.

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