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Fabric frustrations for great white sharks

March 1st, 2020 / By: / Swatches

Great white sharks, responsible for most unprovoked attacks on humans, were part of a field test to create a fabric that better protects against their bite. Photo: Flinders University.

While rare, shark bites can be a serious, dangerous reality for surfers and divers in some parts of the world. Shark bites classically are crescent shaped or result in a series of parallel cuts if the shark rakes its serrated triangular teeth on the person under attack. Blood loss is the leading cause of death from such bites. 

Scientists at Flinders University in Australia are working to develop a lightweight wetsuit fabric that can reduce blood loss in the event of a shark bite. They’ve tested two fabrics, both of which incorporate ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene fibers (UHMWPE) into neoprene material used in wetsuits.

The marine researchers examined 10 variants of two different fabrics in laboratory tests for puncture and laceration resilience. Compared to standard neoprene without the protective layers, these fabrics were more resistant to puncture, laceration and bites from sharks.

Local great white sharks even got the chance to test the fabric at the Neptune Islands Group Marine Park. Researchers wrapped the material samples around load sensors placed between steel plates that were surrounded by foam and threw them to the sharks, which were between 10 and 13 feet in length.  

Ultimately, the protective fabric required more force to be punctured and the cuts were smaller and shallower than those on the standard fabric. While the first results are promising, the scientists plan to do more testing. For more information, visit https://flinders.edu.au.