A lot must’ve been going through Mick Fanning’s mind after his shark encounter at the 2015 J-Bay Open in South Africa. First and foremost being “How do I make sure that never happens again?”
Fortunately for surfers everywhere, there’s been a lot of research to help understand shark behavior and anyone who has watched Shark Week can probably rattle off some terrifying, likely blown-out-of-porportion facts.
Sharks Aren’t Your Average Predator
What we do know is sharks possess an impressive array of senses, including an acute sense of smell, hearing based on internal ears, enhanced sensitivity to low-frequency water vibrations, and the ability to detect the tiny electric fields generated by other living organisms. Needless to say, sharks are advanced predators.
So what difference would a yellow board make to a predator that can smell, hear, and feel you from far away? Well, in the 1960s and 1970s, the United States Office of Naval Research funded a massive program to research shark sensory biology. One of their findings was that the color of an object floating in the water was strongly correlated to the likelihood that a shark would approach and interact with the object. Highly reflective silver and white objects had a tendency to attract bull sharks and tiger sharks, whereas black and blue objects didn’t.
Colors DO Make a Difference
A later study found that bright yellow life vests, similar to those used by commercial airlines, increased aggression in blue sharks and mako sharks. Dummies dressed in the yellow life vests were readily attacked by the sharks, whereas dummies dressed in black life vests tended to be ignored. These findings gave rise to the saying “yum yum yellow”.
Recent research suggests that most, if not all, sharks are colorblind. While this may be true, it is still a good safety precaution to avoid yellow. Mick Fanning posted a video where he talks about adding black stripes to his yellow boards and ditching them altogether in favor of blue boards with black patterns. The high contrast patterns serve as a warning signal that might deter sharks since many of them tend to avoid venomous black and white-banded sea snakes.
In case those aren’t reason enough to never ride a yellow board again, here are 6 more reasons you shouldn’t:
- Yellow has a high light reflectance value and acts as a secondary light source. Excessive use of bright yellow can irritate the eyes.
- In Russia, a colloquial expression for an insane asylum was “yellow house”.
- Bright “marigold” yellow is associated with death in some areas of Mexico.
- Those condemned to die during the Inquisition wore yellow as a sign of treason.
- Babies cry more in yellow rooms.
- Couples fight more in yellow kitchens.
Okay, maybe those last two need to be myth-busted but the bottom line is: if you have a yellow board in your quiver, it may be time to retire it on your wall in exchange for a little peace of mind.