Scientists Equip Sharks With Laser Beams
Dr Evil famously wanted one. No-one else would dare go near one. But now one man has paired up Nature’s most fearsome predator with man’s deadliest hi-tech gadgetry. Yes, one man has done the unthinkable and strapped a laser on to the fin of a shark… supposedly in the name of science, but arguably as a marketing stunt.
Marine biologist and television host Luke Tipple, sponsored by Hong-Kong laser manufacturer Wicked Lasers, found a lemon shark in the Caribbean and strapped a 50-milliwatt S3 Krypton green laser on top.
Luckily no animals (or humans) were harmed in this ambitious stunt, which started after Wicked Lasers promised to make Dr Evil’s dream a reality if more than 2,000 people ‘Liked’ a Facebook post.
But other than some cheap advertising and giving spectators the chance to pull out some movie quotes, the social media experiment did lead to some good, honest scientific research.
Tipple first of all designed some non-clamping devices, and tested how others sharks reacted to their technologically-superior brother.
Tipple told Wired: ‘This was definitely a world first.
‘Initially, I told them no. I thought it was a frivolous stunt. But then I considered that it would give us an opportunity to test our clips and attachments, and whatever is attached to that clip, I really don’t care.
‘It was a low-powered laser that couldn’t be dangerous to anyone, and there’s actually useful applications in having a laser attached to the animal.’
One application was studying the animal’s velocity.
Tipple said: ‘We were able to see how their body positioning relates to a target.
‘You can get a very clear description, via the laser, of what the shark’s body is doing.’
The experiment also drew some light on shark reactions to lasers. They were expected to avoid the laser beams, as they tend to avoid wavelengths of a certain frequency, but the sharks ended up being curious.
Tipple also said the shark showed no issues with its new attachment.
He said: ‘The shark didn’t really like it when I initially deployed the clamp, but after a few seconds it returned to normal behavior.
‘The clamp itself isn’t strong enough to cause any pain, and the dorsal fin is actually not very sensitive due to it being composed primarily of cartilage.
‘The laser we were using wasn’t strong enough to cause ocular or thermal damage to other sea life.’
Wicker Lasers CEO Steve Liu gave a tongue-in-cheek response to Wired about the dangerous application of this new hybrid.
He said: ‘Depending on the power of the laser that they are armed with, the sharks could be significantly more dangerous.
‘If there was a way the shark could operate the laser on its own accord and use it against humans, we wouldn’t even attempt this.’
Tipple has presented on Mythbuster and Discovery Channel shows. He stressed the experiment was non-invasive and non-harmful, and he is the managing director of the Shark-Free Marina Initiative, an organisation which aims to lower worldwide shark mortality rates.
Sean Van Sommeran, executive director and founder of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation, told Wired: ‘I like the idea of the spring-loaded hinge that’s going to break down over time in the salt water.
‘It’s a good alternative to drilling holes through the fins. Sharks are slow growing so something attached temporarily, for even a month, isn’t necessarily going to harm the shark, or impede its growth.’
However he added that attaching a laser on the shark long-term would be a bad idea – the shark would not be able to hunt as it would be ‘carrying a roof rack of lights’.