Long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte is no stranger to shark encounters: when he swam the Atlantic Ocean in 1998, Ben was followed by a shark for five days. Though only a handful of the more than 465 known species of sharks can pose a threat to humans, it was important for Ben and the crew to consult with shark behavior experts on Ben's best options for a personal shark deterrent to lower his risk of a dangerous interaction.
Dr. Charlie Huveneers specializes in shark behavior, and has tested the efficacy of several types of deterrents. The most effective deterrent devices target the ampullae of Lorenzini, a specific electro-receptive organ in a shark's snout that allows it to detect a weak magnetic field in the water, and hunt effectively for prey at close distance.
It turns out that the same adaptations that have allowed these prehistoric predators to flourish in every ocean for 400 million years may also be the key to how we can coexist with them today. The Shark Shield, a device that emits an electric field that overwhelms the ampullae, was the clear winner, reducing instances of bait taken from 96% down to 40%. The crew keeps this device aboard the dinghy while Ben swims, but it didn't prove necessary during Ben's recent peaceful encounter with a mako shark.
"The reason I stay in the water when we have any type of sea life is to try to understand it a little bit more," Ben explains. "It's not about Jaws, the movie that we all know. Sharks are not like that. Sometimes they are like us, or like any other animals; they are curious."