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Divers embrace anti-shark device

From CNN's Phil O'Sullivan

Sharks are a constant concern for divers in Australia
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Technology (general)

ADELAIDE, Australia (CNN) -- An Australian company has developed technology that intends to protect divers and surfers from being attacked by sharks while they are in the water.

Great white sharks are attracted to the warm ocean currents along Australia's southern coastline and are a constant concern for divers who work in the sea.

The coastline supports colonies of fish and seals, and divers who hunt for scallops and abalone can spend up to 10 hours a day in the water.

Increasing numbers of divers are using a protective electronic device, called Shark Shield, while they work.

When a shark comes in to attack, it automatically closes its eyes as a way of protecting them. With no sight, it detects movement with a tiny sensor in its nose, which picks up the electrical current of its prey.

The Shark Shield takes advantage of this by emitting a much stronger pulse of electricity. The battery-operated device is switched on when the diver or surfer enters the water and the electrical current is generated continuously.

The current causes intense discomfort to the shark and, as a result, they leave the area.

The inventors of the technology say it does not affect any other marine life and has no known harmful effects on the shark or the wearer.

Paul Lunn, founder of SeaChange, the company that has developed the Shark Shield, said the device worked by attacking a shark's nervous system, and it worked on sharks with the strongest of charges.

"It puts it (the shark) into a spasm, it cannot breathe, it cannot survive in this particular field. We call it hitting the wall. It comes in and hits this barrier and then it goes."

Lunn said the device puts a controlled electronic field into the water, which dissipates quickly, so there is no permanent damage to the shark.

"The wonderful thing about our technology is that when they get out of that zone, there is no long lasting damage to the shark whatsoever," he said.

The Shark Shield can repel a shark from between five and eight meters (16-26 feet), he said.

Like so much technology that eventually makes it on to the marketplace, the Shark Shield isn't exactly new.

It was first developed more than a decade ago in South Africa, but has only recently been designed to commercial standards.

It is also proving popular with surfers, but because it weighs 400g (0.9lb), it does add some weight on to the board.

The main housing unit of the Shark Shield is worn on the thigh, and the antenna is worn on the ankle.

"It's something which takes a while to be accepted, it's like any new technology, people are not too sure," surfer Wayne Sutton told CNN.

Meanwhile, the device is also being attached to fishing nets to prevent sharks stealing fishermen's catch.

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