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SAMS’ new anti-shark wetsuits are good for surfers, bad for Jaws

SAMS'  award winning black banded wetsuit design
SAMS’ award winning black banded wetsuit design

Perth in Western Australia has enough sharks to give most surfers pause. In the past three years alone, the area’s coastline saw six human deaths from shark attacks — the highest incidence in the world. So a local company thought it would do something about it. Their solution? A new breed of anti-shark wetsuits that keep big jaws from chomping.

Based in Perth, Shark Attack Mitigation Systems (or SAMS for short) was founded when Hamish Jolly and Craig Anderson approached some of the experts at the University of Western Australia’s (UWA) Oceans Institute with an idea they’d been mulling over for wetsuits that would act either as camouflage or as a warning when sharks approached.

The first of these two revolutionary suits is a black and white striped style designed for surfers and intended to give sharks a warning that says “I’m not food, so stay away.” Dubbed the “Diverter,” it’s made for murkier water and takes its design cues from animal biology. As Hamish and Jolly noted, pilot fish, which spend much of their lives around sharks (usually without getting eaten) have obvious black and white stripes.

Pilot fish's black and white bands tells sharks "don't eat me!"
Pilot fish’s black and white bands tells sharks “don’t eat me!”

Meanwhile, humans have long been using the pilot fish’s technique, with some Pacific Island tribes traditionally painting themselves with black and white bands to ward off sharks. More recently, marine biologist Dr Walter Starck and environmentalist Dr Harry Butler have been advocating black banding on wetsuits as a shark deterrent.

The second of the SAMS suits, a blue style designed for divers called the “Eluder,” works as a “cryptic” wetsuit to hide the wearer rather than make them look threatening.

The idea itself is so nifty that SAMS wetsuits, while still not on the market, have already won the prestigious 2014 ISPO award for best new sportswear product. Oh, and did we mention the wetsuit patterns themselves were created by famous surf designer Ray Smith?

SAMS' "Diverter" wetsuit (left) and "Eluder" wetsuit (right)
SAMS’ “Diverter” wetsuit (left) and “Eluder” wetsuit (right)

That all sounds real nice, you may be thinking, but how do the SAMS suits stand up against sharks in real life? So far so good, actually. In tests where a container of shark bait was covered with the same material used in either wetsuit, sharks spotted but kept away from bait covered in the banded “Diverter” pattern, and could smell but not find the container covered in the blue “Eluder” motif. On top of the experiment results, the concept for either pattern is also backed up by tons of research conducted at UWA, which included using complex computer modelling to figure out exactly how shark eyes see.

The SAMS suits aren’t available quite yet, though the company has just signed its first licensing agreement with a manufacturer, so you should be able to get your hands on your own anti-shark wetsuit soon. Jaws won’t be happy about that, but surfers and divers will.