Action News Jax investigates if shark-repellent technology used to prevent shark attacks works

A small rubber wristband comes with a big promise, claiming it can prevent shark bites and attacks.

Action News Jax’s Alicia Tarancon investigated the technology and went to an expert to see if it really works.

“I looked at my foot and I saw all the blood,” recalled 15-year-old Peyton McGuinn.

Peyton remembers his scary experience last August while surfing at St. Augustine Beach.

It started with a tug on his leg.

STORY: 13-year-old bitten by shark in Fernandina Beach

“Pretty much just felt like someone pulled me from underneath the water,” he said.

At first, he thought it was a friend playing a trick on him, but when he looked down, Peyton saw a shark swimming away and realized he was bleeding.

“I went to land and then when I got there, even more blood started to come out. And there’s blood everywhere after that,” McGuinn said.

That’s when a nearby surfer ran over and wrapped up the teen’s wound before calling 911.

You can see the scar on his ankle almost a year later.

Peyton suffered a torn tendon from the attack and needed to get surgery.

He also went through rehab.

Scientists say shark attacks like these are uncommon. In most cases they happen in the summer, when the beaches are packed with people, when the water is at its warmest.

CORONAVIRUS: 1 Northeast Florida county, 1 Southeast Georgia county in top 20 U.S. Delta variant ‘danger zones’

There’s a company that wants to make these rare attacks even more so with a special device.

Sharkbanz is a device you can wear on your wrist or your ankle.

The company said it’s a simple and effective way to reduce the risk of a shark attack while surfing, diving, or even swimming in the ocean.

“The way that they work is patented magnetic technology and they create this powerful magnetic field and when sharks come into contact with that field, it turns them away,” Davis Mersereau, vice president of Sharkbanz, said.

Mersereau said the idea was developed after a high school friend of his was attacked by a shark.

“He didn’t show up to school one morning and he had been out surfing. He had a bull shark actually pull him off his board and chew up his leg a bit, but he was all right thankfully,” Mersereau said.

The company said it tested the products and it works.

They shared several videos with us, including one where a test dummy is baited with fish and dropped in the water with 15 bull sharks for 14 minutes.

Without the product, the dummy was bitten about every 42 seconds, but once Sharkbanz is placed on the dummy’s wrist and ankle, the company claims there were zero attacks.

“Before we even launched the product in 2014, we looked at all the research done showing and proving that magnetic technology that we were going to use was effective at deterring a wide variety of predatory shark species and there’s 10 years of research that’s been poured in from scientists, marine biologists all around the world to show that effectiveness,” Mersereau said.

Dr. Jim Gelsleichter studies sharks for a living as an associate professor of biology at the University of North Florida.

He said there is some scientific evidence behind Sharkbanz and other shark-repelling technology.

“Theoretically speaking, their permanent magnets do produce some sort of electric field that does seem to negatively impact sharks that does cause them to want to avoid that area,” Dr. Gelsleichter said.

But Dr. Gelsleichter said the devices are small and would only be effective if the shark is in close range.

“It’s probably only really functional up to a half a meter, up to probably about a foot and half away from the shark,” he said.

Dr. Gelsleichter said if it makes a swimmer feel better, it may not be a bad idea, but said people shouldn’t develop a false sense of security.

“It’s not going to be 100% effective against sharks because even the studies that have been conducted using these devices demonstrate that again some of the dummy divers, for example, that were outfitted with the band, still have the tendency to get bitten,” Dr. Gelsleichter said.

Dr. Gelsleichter told Action News Jax he would still like some additional research on the product.

“There’s been a little bit of work done to test the Sharkbanz. Not tremendous amount and most of it hasn’t made its way into the published literature to be evaluated by scientists,” he said.

The company’s website does have over 3,000 mostly positive reviews and testimonials.

Mathew Scott, Peyton’s stepdad, told Action News Jax he received a Sharkbanz six months ago as a gift from his brother.

“I always had this slight nervous fear of sharks when I started diving. It just allows me to focus on looking for fish instead of looking behind me all the time,” Scott said.

He’s used it a few times without any incidents and he’s even urging his stepson to get one too.

For now, Peyton is staying off his board and out of the water.

“Probably eventually, like in the future, I’ll probably end up surfing again or just getting back in the water,” Peyton said.