Sharks Are Chomping Underwater Fiber-Optic Cables

By Carl Engelking | August 15, 2014 1:01 pm


Sharks have an undeserved reputation for being bloodthirsty killers that routinely make snacks out of tourists. Although the risk of getting eaten by a shark is extremely small, the same cannot be said for underwater fiber-optic cables that carry data around the world.

It seems sharks have a mighty hankering for these vital intercontinental communication links – a penchant which has set Google on a mission to reinforce its trans-Pacific cables by wrapping them in a Kevlar-like material. Google product manager Dan Belcher revealed their shark-proofing efforts at a marketing meeting last week in Boston, Network World reports.

An Appetite for Communication

But why are sharks zeroing in on our global communication networks?

Sharks have an uncanny ability to sense electromagnetic fields in the water using tiny detectors in their snouts called ampullae of Lorenzini. The organs, which look like freckles, sense even minute changes to electrical fields in the water, helping sharks find prey, navigate… or locate fiber-optic cables.

“No doubt the electromagnetic fields associated with these wires are highly attractive to these sharks,” George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, told USA Today.

Underwater cameras caught this curious shark chomping on an underwater cable in 2010:

Interestingly, sharks don’t seem to be lured to the older copper cables that run underwater. It’s led to speculation that sharks confuse the high-voltage, magnetic emissions from fiber-optic cables with the signals given off by fish. Updated cables will thus likely protect the sharks and reduce energy-wasting attacks.

Shark Snack

Sharks have been giving global communications companies headaches since the 1980s. According to the New York Times, a few shark teeth were found planted in a cable of the Canary Islands in 1985. Every year, more than 50 repairs are needed on undersea transcontinental communication lines due to damage from wildlife, fishing trawlers and earthquakes, The Guardian reports.

Google’s reinforced cables will be installed as part of a new $300 million system connecting the United States to Japan, according to a press release from project partner NEC. It will result in an Internet connection that relays information across the Pacific Ocean at 60 terabytes per second.

That’s good news for Internet users, but maybe the sharks have an ulterior motive: Perhaps they’re simply fed up with fear-mongering documentaries that cast them in a negative light.


Photo credit: Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
  • Janis Rozentals

    Fiber optic and high voltage? Are you serious?

    • Psy

      Yes they have high voltage for the repeaters that regenerate the signal every few hundred kilometers.

      • skeff

        So you mean there is a power cable running along the fiberoptics to power the repeaters? Might want to rephrase that in the article.

        • Psy

          First off its not my article second off if you knew what goes into underwater fiber cables this would not have to be explained to you. Please do a search on what and how fiber optics work on land and in the ocean. Research before you comment.

          • tony

            Take a break Psy. Not everyone can be aas cool as you. After your done breaking your arm patting yourself on the back, Give yourself a hand (job)

  • Padge Vounder

    The way the internet has so much lag and packet loss, I hope they put these new 60 terabyte per second lines everywhere.

  • Jana Baker Smith

    One has to wonder if the subtle emitted electromagnetic emissions disturb other sea life?

  • speener

    Or these are the same sharks from Deep Blue Sea and they’re laying in wait for an ambush.

  • apurva sethi

    omg! does it hurt sharks?

  • kiara

    thanks for sharing this, its always good to know the insights.


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