Just off the coast of southwest Australia, shark enthusiasts from all over the world come to visit the legendary Great White in their natural habitat. Traditional methods of baiting with fish had been forbidden due to the frenzied state which sharks enter when in the presence of blood and guts, which puts visitors in danger. Shark tour operators had to get creative, including one by the name of Matt Waller whose love of music inspired him to try something new. “Necessity is the mother of invention. When we started shark cage diving initially we weren’t allowed to use blood and bait, so we looked for alternatives around other senses that could attract sharks and music or acoustics was just an obvious thing to try … We just grabbed a speaker of one of my mates … we put it in the water, and connected it to the iPod. It was my iPod and we just started at A. The first album on the list was AC/DC Back In Black. When we turned it on we had sharks within a minute and they hung around for 20 minutes and the sharks were coming up and just rubbing their faces on the speaker and we were just like ‘this is the coolest thing ever’.”
Matt’s videos went viral on social media, and soon he was inundated with requests to try other songs and artists. “We started going through the playlist and what we saw was it wasn’t just ACDC that attracts sharks, there were other songs as well, and we got to one particular shark — Bernadette i think her name was — that every time we played Talking Heads’ Sax and Violins she would breach out of the water. The only time we’d see that shark was when that song was playing, and we started to think that sharks had individual preferences.”
The songs that worked best to attract sharks all had something in common: a driving bass line. These low frequency sounds travel far underwater, and can attract marine animals from quite a distance. Sharks have a fluid-filled tube extending along each flank, and each of these tubes is in direct contact with the ocean water via tiny holes in the skin. The vibrations of water moved by sound affects tiny hairs inside the pores, which causes the vibration to be felt inside the entire body of the shark. This allows the animal to detect the directional source of the rippling. But why are the sharks Researchers believe that sharks are attracted to the music because it could be lunch. In their open-ocean habitat, sharks have a low rate of encounter of potential prey, so any kind of stimulus in the water would cause the curious creatures to react and investigate.
Waller somewhat agrees with this hypothesis, but he seems to lean to a more personal theory: “Rock n roll does have the largest success probably because of the low frequency vibrations basically, and even the distortion, it might have something to do with the replication of feeding behavior. We don’t know. But when the same shark comes back to the same song time after time, knowing that there’s no food available, what is the attraction? Maybe they just think it’s cool.”
Waller and his mates entertained the sharks with bands like AC/DC, Rammstein, Iggy Pop, Foo Fighters and Rage Against the Machine, and they even compiled a Top 10 Sharks’ Favorite list. And the technique is proving to be just as functional as it is fun: it works well as an alternative to traditional baiting methods, as it is a relatively non-intrusive way to attract calmer sharks for the pleasure of excited visitors. “Sitting underwater, listening to your favorite song by Metallica and having a shark just cruise past, looks like he’s rocking out to the beat, letting his hair down and just kicking back to the tunes…” sounds like the golden life!
Photo by Olga Ernst (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]