‘I didn’t go in the water for months after I had been spooked by the shark attacks,” Shanan Worrall told Tracks. “Eventually I tried to force the issue. I was at home Esperance and paddled out, but when I got to about half-a-foot of water I started throwing up and crying. Being an Aussie bloke, I ignored that response, went home and tried again the next day. This time I paddled out the back and started throwing up and crying again. I sat on the beach for an hour sobbing and thought, ‘Well, that’s that. I’m never going in the water again.'”
That was back in the 2013. The commercial abalone and shell diver, spearfisher, freediver and big wave surfer had recently seen his diving mate Greg Pickering attacked by a white shark. Worrall was had to administer life saving first aid in a remote location before Pickering was rushed to hospital and survived. A few months later Shanan lost another friend in a fatal attack in Gracetown and then personally encountered a few unwanted and unpleasant altercations with large sharks whilst spearfishing and surfing. The culmination lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, eight months out of the water and him crying on a beach.
Eventually Worrall did return to the water. In the years since has made a name for himself in the big wave arena, most famously when he won the 2017 Tube of the Year Big Wave Award for a wave at The Right. Time was one factor in Worrall returning the ocean, but another crucial aspect was the development of his own shark eyes technology.
“We had been putting these massive eyes made from silicone on the back of our wetsuits when we were diving,” he says. “One thing that everyone who has spent a lot of the time in the water with sharks agrees on is that how much line of sight changes sharks behaviour. If seen they often move away to find safer prey that it can surprise. However not many of the public knew about it. It was something so simple that we thought could save lives.”
Whilst Worrall was back in the water surfing and spearfishing, he was too rattled to return to his diving job. A move to Margaret River and needing a new occupation, Worrall started Shark Eyes, based on that simple idea and his own experience.
“Through my professional work, surfing and recreational free diving I came across sharks all the time. I’ve had hundreds upon hundreds of wild encounters with sharks,” he says. “And look mimicry, as it’s known, isn’t a new idea. Animals have used it as a means of defence for ever, but it’s the first time it has been applied as a commercial shark deterrent.”
After plenty of research and consultation with a host of Australia’s best freedivers, professional divers, surfers and marine scientists, many of who are now brand ambassadors, Worrall designed eyes that, in theory, can change a shark’s behaviour.
“It’s a long range deterrent aimed at working 15 to 20 metres away, which is where sharks start to see their prey,” he says. “We also know that sharks register depth of field and contrast. So we designed our eyes to have the maximum of both. The key is the distance. By the time a shark comes into a short range deterrent, they’ve often made their mind to attack. We are hoping to make the shark avoid going into attack mode in the first place.”
Worrall has worldwide trademarks and patents on the design, which are on used rashies, dive mask straps, neoprene tank covers and stickers for surfboards. Divers working for government fisheries in WA and SA currently have their divers running shark eyes.
Yet Worrall is at pains to point out that this is in no way a 100 per cent guarantee. He’s seen enough sharks to know that there is no deterrent that can stop a shark in full attack mode. His technology, by its very nature, is also almost impossible to test. “We are trying to change the instinct of a shark from 15 to 20 metres, which we know happens, but is almost impossible to quantify. You cannot recreate that real life situation by baiting sharks and filming them for example.”
Australia’s best freedivers, professional divers, surfers and marine scientists are backing Shark Eyes technology.
However with more and more divers and surfers using the technology, anecdotal evidence is coming through providing examples of sharks being notably “bugged out” by the eyes. And with it being such a low cost, easy option, if anyone is seriously worried about the threat of a shark attack it seems like it’s a no brainer.
“I’m invested in the business obviously, but having done all this research and listened to all the ambassadors who are absolute gurus, I’d never not surf with the stickers,” he says. “It gives me so much piece of mind.”