When a north coast surfer attempted to save a shark attack victim, he himself became a victim of PTSD … until the local community came up with an idea.
Understandably, Darren Rogers found it difficult to go back into the water after Japanese surfer and shark attack victim Tadashi Nakahara died in his arms on an Australian beach five years ago.
Mauled by a Great White shark just 10 metres from the shore at Ballina on the north coast of New South Wales, the 41-year-old Japanese surfer’s death became the second fatality in the same area in just one year.
While most escape a shark attack with serious-to-moderate injuries, there was little hope for Nakahara whose legs were torn off just below the hip in the ferocious attack.
Rogers, now 55, a Ballina surfboard shaper, administered CPR to the stricken Nakahara on Shelly Beach for a desperate 17 minutes; a grisly experience that left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I went through hell,” Rogers said. “After the attack, I only surfed a few times. I couldn’t stay in the water. I’m too traumatised by images of a Great White.
“Every rock beneath me turns into a shark nest. It’s a really terrible process.”
With the kind of largesse typical of NSW’s close-knit country towns, Ballina mayor David Wright dipped into his own pocket to the tune of $A849 to buy Rogers the last word in personal shark repellent hardware – the Shark Shield Freedom 7 — in a bid to get Rogers his surfing legs back again.
When the company that produces the electronic device, Shark Shield, heard the story they, in turn, reimbursed the mayor.
For Lindsay Lyon, managing director and CEO of Shark Shield, the electronic-wave emitting device has an effect that goes beyond the psychological.
“Shark Shield is the world’s only scientifically-proven and independently-tested electrical shark deterrent – there is no other,” Lyon said.
He said there are already three independent university research papers written around the effectiveness of Shark Shield and one paper, in particular, conducted by the University of Western Australia Ocean Institute identified it as being effective 90 per cent of the time.
While the remaining 10 per cent may give some consumers pause for thought, Lyon is quick to defend its record.
“Which safety product in the world offers a 100 per cent guarantee?” he asked. “It is an unachievable non-existent reference from seat belts, crash helmets, safety boots, etc.”
The first version of the product was developed by the Natal Shark Board of South Africa in the 1990s, who then licensed it to entrepreneurs in South Australia.
“These guys set about refining it to make it more wearable and ergonomic,” Lyon said, adding that he and several shareholders bought the South Australian company just three years ago.
He said the technology works by using trailing antennae that emit a three-dimensional electrical waveform that creates a field eight meters in diameter around the swimmer, diver, or surfer using the device.
Predatory sharks have small gel-filled sacs known as ampullae of Lorenzini on their snouts that they use as sensors when feeding or searching for food. When the shark comes into contact with the electrical field, it experiences muscular spasms in this zone that cause it to flee the area.
Lyon said his company’s only concern was that the product worked properly.
“Trying to convince a surfer or a diver that a white shark that’s 20-foot long and travelling at 40kph can be stopped is a difficult task,” he said.
Despite this, Lyon said the product has benefited from government-backed independent research, in particular in South Africa where the problem of sharks prowling tourist beaches is second only to Australia.
“We’ve got videos taken by scientists off South Africa showing sharks in full attack mode being deterred after hitting a Shark Shield.”
Western Australia’s coast remains the world’s most fatal shore for shark attacks. Even so, a government-backed scheme to cull sharks had to be scrapped after a public outcry.
Increased knowledge about sharks, and their position as apex predators in the marine ecosystem, has raised their profile. The days when fishermen and divers could exterminate sharks with impunity are over.
A marine biologist at Newcastle University in NSW, David Powter, said the slew of new products to counter shark attacks was a case of public perception outstripping reality.
While there has been a spike in the number of attacks in Australia the latest cluster is still within the statistical average.
“It certainly has been an unusual cluster of attacks but when you look at shark attacks in Australia and globally, it’s not all that uncommon to have a cluster that looks very much like an outbreak,” he said.
He said the idea of a rogue shark of the type depicted in Jaws was just a Hollywood myth.
“The bigger sharks like bull sharks and white sharks don’t tend to be territorial in that regard. They don’t have a fixed area that they hang around in but they tend to be very mobile and move over large distances.”
Why clusters occur, he said, was still unknown.
“It is probably strongly tied to environmental conditions. We had a bit of a run of rain onshore which means rivers will flush out material into the sea and that will boost activity in that near-shore environment which will bring fish in to feed on that additional productivity.
“That brings their predators closer to shore, including sharks.”
Meanwhile, Darren Rogers has drawn more comfort from his new Shark Shield than the knowledge that he’s part of a statistical minority.
“The impact the Shark Shield has had on my mental health over the past couple of days has been extraordinary – I feel really confident with it,” said Rogers, steeling himself for a return to the surf as part of his birthday celebrations.
“It’s like someone has taken the chains off me that was holding me to this event.”