World-First Australian Shark Alarm System Detects Sharks Instantly

21/09/2015 11:00 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Chris Hyde via Getty Images
BALLINA, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 10: A lifeguard patrols Shelly Beach on February 10, 2015 in Ballina, Australia. Beaches in northern NSW remain closed after Tadashi Nakahara, 41, was killed on Monday morning when he was bitten by a large shark at Shelly Beach. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

A world-first shark alarm system in Western Australia could help save lives this coming summer.

The Mullaloo Beach Surf Lifesaving Club, in partnership with Curtin University, has developed a real-time alarm system that detects when a tagged shark is in the area and immediately sounds an alarm on the beach.

“When a shark or other tagged animal passes through the monitored area at Mullaloo Beach, a signal that is regularly emitted from their tag is then picked up by the strategically placed receivers in the water,” said Dr Miles Parsons, from Curtin University’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology.

Those “receivers” are special buoys floating in the water, each with a detection radius of 500 metres.

Only sharks that have previously been acoustically tagged for research can be detected by the buoys.

“Once the signal is picked up, the receivers then transmit a signal directly to the beach management system,” Dr Parsons said.

“[That] sets off the audible alarm and flashing lights stationed on the beach, alerting swimmers to the potential danger and prompting them to take immediate action.”

Members of the lifesaving club were driven to develop the technology after one of their members had a close encounter with a shark in 2012.

Martin Kane was rammed by a three-metre shark while paddling on his surf-ski at the beach with friends. The force of the blow threw him from his surf-ski and into the water where he was rescued by a mate.

Club president Carlo Tenaglia said the real-time alarms were the best way to ensure everyone got out of the water safely.

“A siren and red light are universal warning signs for danger and prompt swimmers to take immediate action to exit the water,” Tenaglia said.

The technology can also be replicated up and down a coastline to form an unbroken protection line, or at other beaches.

“The monitored area can be expanded by placing additional detection buoys at spaced intervals, forming a detection line for as long as required, creating a larger monitored area, and hopefully safer area, for local swimmers,” Mr Tenaglia said.

Western Australia is currently experiencing higher-than-usual shark activity, with six white sharks tagged off the Perth coast in a two week period at the end of August.

The club and Curtin University are now measuring the program's success and exploring how it could be rolled out across other beaches.

In NSW, meanwhile, the state government has announced it would fund aerial shark surveillance for the first time between Byron Bay and Evans Head, focusing on known shark aggregation sites.

A new NSW SharkSmart app also lets swimmers do an on-the-spot shark risk assessment before entering the water.

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