Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sharks in a kiddie pool

This story from PRI's the World connects nicely with some posts I'm trying to get around to about the appropriate scale for different research projects. Some are well suited to small, entrepreneurial approaches (like this). Others demand major commitments from governments or large corporations (or both). If we want to encourage technological development, that's an important distinction when we get down to individual cases. For example, the prize model makes more sense when dealing with the first than when dealing with the second. (and yes, I am thinking of this.)

Now back to the sharks:
Stroud, 38, used to work fulltime as a chemist in the pharmaceutical industry. Then, in the summer of 2001, he and his wife went on a cruise to Bermuda.

“We hit bad weather, and we were trapped in a cabin, and on the news was shark bite after shark bite,” he says. “It seemed like everyone that stepped in the ocean in Florida was getting attacked by a shark that summer.”

That’s when his wife suggested he turn his talents to developing shark repellents. When they got home, he set up several kiddie pools in his basement, and he filled them with small sharks.

Field assistant T. J. Ostendorf holds a lemon shark in a seaside pen at Bimini Biological Field Station. The shark is turned upside down to induce a sleep-like state called tonic immobility. A repellent is considered effective if it can rouse a shark from this state. (Photo: Ghinwa Fakhri Choueiter)
He watched how the sharks fed, swam, and behaved. Then, one day, he accidentally dropped a large magnet from his workbench. He noticed some small nurse sharks dart away.
“That night, we put magnets into the tank and couldn’t believe [that] the nurse sharks were just extremely distressed and stayed away from them,” he says.

Stroud had discovered that magnets repel sharks.

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