What the WSL is doing this year to avoid sharks at the J-Bay Open


Do you remember where you were when you heard or saw that Mick Fanning had been tangled up with a great white shark at Jeffreys Bay during the World Surf League contest in 2015?

Mick Fanning and the shark, moments before the two got tangled.

Fanning’s brush with mortality was easily one of the scariest sports moments caught on live camera in human history. Thankfully Fanning was entirely unharmed. The final during which it happened was eventually cancelled, with Fanning and Julian Wilson taking equal seconds.

The two finalists, Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson glad to be on dry land. Photo: Courtesy of Kirstin Scholtz/World Surf LeagueThe two finalists, Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson glad to be on dry land. Photo: Courtesy of Kirstin Scholtz/World Surf League

Unequivocally one of the best waves in the world, Jeffrey’s Bay has always been known to be a favorite of both the world’s best surfers and great whites — Taj Burrow was run from the lineup in the 2003 contest by a great white himself. But it was nearly a unanimous decision to return to J-Bay this year for the World Surf League. Sharks are in the oceans and no matter what precautions we as surfers take, they will always be a risk.

Starting July 6, the J-Bay Open will be an opportunity for the WSL to show the world that sharks and humans can live in conjunction together. As the VP of Communications for the WSL Dave Prodan told GrindTV in an interview, “The ocean remains the most dynamic, and potentially dangerous, field of play in all of sports.”

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So what extra precautions is the WSL taking this year to ensure further safety to their surfers? “We’ve increased the presence of water patrol for the event with a minimum of one ski dedicated to each competitor in the heat,” Prodan tells. “This enhances both our surveillance and response capabilities.”

“Additionally, we’re working with a sonar technology company to further enhance our surveillance ability by providing event officials with more information. While this technology is still evolving and not comprehensive, we are encouraged by its potential to enhance our surveillance capabilities at the event.”

That technology is called Clever Buoy, a buoy built by Australia’s Shark Mitigation Systems that sits just outside the lineup and detects every fish in the ocean. The sonar detects the swimming patterns of fishes, in particular sharks, and sends the information wirelessly back to lifeguards (or whomever) as data.

It will be a true test of this technology at J-Bay, because while detection technologies like these are promising, they remain largely unproven until thrown into a lineup protecting an actual human.

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