Australian University staff announced testing of new materials designed to reduce the impact of shark bites as part of a project to reduce mortality among swimmers and divers.
Researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide have received government funding to test a new neoprene - a synthetic rubber commonly used in wetsuits - against the bite of several shark species, including the great white shark. The new material, provided by manufacturers, whose names the university chose not to disclose, aims to reduce cuts and punctures from shark attacks, thereby reducing human blood loss.
“We understand that this will not prevent all injuries, nor will it help to avoid fractures in the event of a meeting with a shark. However, the majority of deaths from these predators are related to blood loss, and therefore the ability to reduce such blood loss along with urgent emergency measures will hopefully help reduce mortality and injury from shark bites,”says Associate Professor at Flinders University and one of the participants research by Charlie Huveneers.
Despite the fact that tens of millions of people come to Australian beaches every year, shark attacks are extremely rare. However, they do happen, and each incident sparks a public debate about safety measures at the beach. Australia recorded 27 shark attacks on humans last year, including one fatal incident at the popular tourist resort of Whitsunday near the Great Barrier Reef, according to data compiled by the Sydney Zoo.
The fabric that will be used for protective wetsuits is similar to Kevlar - a heat-resistant, durable synthetic fiber commonly used for body armor. The new neoprene will be tested against standard materials commonly used by surfers and divers, and the test results will be published later this year. The researchers, while recognizing that the force of a shark bite can break a person's bone, say that if their wetsuit design is successful, it can save a person's life by stopping the bleeding until qualified medical attention is provided.
University staff have already begun testing new material using sharks in their natural habitat in Spencer Bay, west of Adelaide. However, according to Hoeveners, even if the suit performs well, there are still only two guaranteed ways for a person to prevent a shark attack: either use fences or stay out of the water.