A shark attack is every surfer's or snorkeler's worst nightmare, and some studies have shown that most oceangoers have at some point been within 10 feet of a shark without knowing it. But what if you could somehow repel sharks by wearing a certain pattern on your wetsuit?
That's the idea behind a new line of rash guards and wetsuits being marketed by the online retailer boatstogo.com. The suits are designed after the patterns on a lionfish, a venomous type of fish popular in aquariums. The striking patterns on a lionfish help protect it by warning predators that it is poisonous, but would such a pattern work if worn by a human?
According to the retailer's website, "the unique color pattern of our Rash Guard mimics the features of highly venomous lion fish, therefore minimizing your chances of being mistaken for a sea lion or any other type of favorite food on the menu of local sharks."
"The large eyes placed in an unnatural location should also confuse and scare off potential predators looking for a quick bite," the site goes on to say.
It's a careful choice of words. The site does not directly claim that the pattern repels sharks so much as confuse or make it more obvious to a shark that you're not on the menu. Though it makes for an interesting conjecture, research on the issue remains scant.
“I seriously doubt that will work,” shark ecologist Bradley M. Wetherbee told National Geographic. He noted that the lionfish pattern makes a questionable design because sharks don't usually encounter these fish. Lionfish are an invasive species outside of the Indo-Pacific.
Sharks are also probably colorblind, so it's unlikely that the bright colors of the lionfish design would even be visible to them. Lionfish are also quite small compared to a human — the largest grow to just over 40 centimeters in length — so it's unclear if a shark would confuse a human wearing one of these wetsuits with a tiny venomous fish.
These designs are probably worth further study, but oceangoers should not start swimming carefree in shark-infested waters with these suits while the jury is still out. Of course, the suits aren't likely to increase the chance of a shark attack either, so if their design appeals to your sense of style, there's probably no harm in trying them out for normal ocean activity.
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