You cannot fool Mother Nature, as the saying goes. But people can try, and a California kayak fishermen is hoping that by painting the underside of his vessel to resemble a killer whale will keep him safe from great white sharks. He also rigged two fins to drag behind the kayak "in case I ever find myself in dire need."
This man, named Mark, reasoned that killer whales are enemies of white sharks and asked Carrie Wilson of the California Department of Fish and Game whether this might be an effective tactic. "I'm wondering if I am a soon-to-be "dead duck" instead of a brilliant kayak engineer!" Mark wrote to the DFG.
Wilson, who produces a popular Q & A column each week, provided an insightful response but of course could not answer the question because sharks are so mysterious and, in many ways, so unpredictable. Still, her answer is worth a read:Answer: I've never gotten a letter quite like yours. I applaud your kayak engineering prowess. However, I'm not sure painting the hull of your kayak to resemble the underbelly of an orca, along with attaching fins that mysteriously drag out the back, will spook a white shark or prevent an attack.
Most attacks on humans are likely because the sharks mistake them for seals or sea lions, some of the white shark's favorite foods. The sharks queue in on outlines or shadows of objects at the surface that they think resemble prey, often in murky water. White sharks are ambush predators and usually attack from below. Orcas are white sharks' only predators, but whether your kayak hull will look enough like an orca to a white shark (seeing it in murky water) is anyone's guess.
Keep in mind that sharks are curious animals and their eyesight isn't that sharp, but they do have an exceptional sense of smell. They also can detect even the slightest movements associated with distressed creatures in the water. Given this, the presence of an orca-colored structure floating motionless at the surface might not increase the likelihood that a shark will mistake your kayak for a dead orca or an easy meal. However, if your fishing is successful and you hang lots of wiggling dying fish on a stringer over the side, or put a bunch of fish blood in the water, your kayak might become more intriguing.
Though it happens, attacks on kayaks are rare; and if all white sharks knew how lousy kayaks tasted, they probably wouldn't ever bother them. Once a white shark has bitten and found its prey unappealing (e.g. skinny humans, kayaks, etc.) they often move on in search for something with fatty blubber. Unfortunately, that "sample bite" can cause great harm.
Finally, realize that white sharks live in coastal waters year-round and can be swimming around you all the time -- even if you don't see them. However, I would think the less your kayak looks like a seal or sea lion (remove those trailing fins!), the lower your chances of a negative shark encounter. But the only way to be certain you won't encounter a shark is to stay out of the ocean. And you don't want to do that, do you?
-- Carrie Wilson