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Sharks vs Tech: Q & A with Bondi Rescue’s Bruce “Hoppo” Hopkins

Last week, Bruce “Hoppo” Hopkins officially signed on as an ambassador for Aussie shark tech company Shark Mitigation Systems (SMS).

SMS is a Perth-based company that develops technologies which can detect sharks and reduce the risk of attacks. According to the company’s official site, founders Hamish Jolly and Craig Anderson both share a passion for the ocean and they are on a mission to better understand shark behaviour and develop non-invasive solutions to shark attacks.

Although Australia is surrounded by an ocean that we love to swim, surf and play in, unfortunately, the odd person runs afoul of a shark. Heck, a Great White even jumped into a fisherman’s boat this week.

Shark culls gain support yearly, but they’re hardly a solution. For perspective, statistics show that in Australia, horses and bees are more dangerous than sharks and spiders. Yet nobody is calling for a mass horse and bee cull, are they?

Techly reported on SMS last year when the company was trialling Clever Buoy, a sonar shark detector that identifies sharks by their shape and sends warning signals to lifeguards on the beach.

SMS’s other major technology is its SAMS (Shark Attack Mitigation Systems) wetsuits, which were developed in collaboration with the University of Western Australia’s Oceans Institute and School of Animal Biology. These wetsuits are designed to provide visual camouflage by using patterns that predatory sharks will have trouble seeing.

Hoppo is the chief lifeguard at Sydney’s Bondi Beach and the president of the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguards Association (APOLA). He also features prominently in Bondi Rescue, which is now in its twelfth season and is syndicated in 100 countries.

Techly chatted to Hoppo about Bondi, sharks, and technology.

How did you get involved with SMS?

I met Craig and Richard about five years ago when they originally launched Clever Buoy at Bronte Beach. At the time, I thought this new technology was exciting. Fast-forward five years and I was right. The technology is amazing and, as it gets smarter, I can see it being used all around the world. It worked extremely well in the trial at Bondi.

How high are risks of shark attacks in Australia?

The risks aren’t actually that high in Australia. At Bondi, we have only had one attack in 80 years.

Which part of Australia has the most shark incidents?

Western Australia has had the most incidents over the years followed recently by Ballina in northern NSW. We had no incidents of sharks at Bondi apart from some swimming through the bay chasing fish.

What are SMS’s plans for the near future?

The future looks great. We are looking at getting this technology into as many beaches as possible. If lifeguards are aware when a shark enters the beach area it will help to manage the beaches a lot more efficiently.

Aside from SMS, how has technology changed the lifeguarding game?

Technology has helped us monitor the beaches and know when a shark has entered the beach. It gives us time to launch the jetski and remove swimmers from the water rather than relying on someone spotting the shark. We can also use technology to monitor things like swell heights, water temperature and water pollution levels.

Sharks definitely have an image problem. If you could be any animal, what would you be?

Actually, I would like to be a shark! They have always fascinated me. The way they move through the water and the number of kilometres they travel is amazing. I want to learn so much more about sharks so we can understand them and take the fear out of people who think they are killers. It’s another reason I am passionate about being a part of Shark Mitigation Systems.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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