Be afraid: sharks are eating your internet

18 August 2014

Not content with just ruining your summer vacation at Amity Island, sharks are apparently branching out into disrupting your internet connection as well – and they don’t even need frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads to do it.

While reports of sharks chomping down on undersea cables have been circulating since the 1980s, a recent Google Cloud Roadshow event gave the issue new media attention, after a Google products manager mentioned the myth when discussing the company’s Trans-Pacific fibre-optic cables.

Supposedly, Google has been encasing its fibre-optic cables in a Kevlar-like material in order to protect them from shark bites. Presumably, this includes Google’s newest FASTER intercontinental project, which will connect the US to Japan and provide improved internet access to Asia.

If it sounds far-fetched, stories stretch back to the mid-80s that cite shark attacks as the cause of damage to undersea cables, including a case in 1985 where cables were retrieved from the ocean with shark teeth reportedly still embedded in the line.

More recently, a 2010 video recently surfaced, showing footage of a large shark om-nom-nomming on a segment of underwater cable.

(Shark) net neutrality

As to why sharks are (very occasionally) targeting the cable, theories have varied. A popular explanation is that the sharks may be attracted to the electro-magnetic fields that fibre-optic cables generate.

As sharks use their sensitivity to magnetic fields to assist in tracking prey, it’s possible the animals are mistaking the electrical signals omitted by cables for fish - resulting in sharks swimming in for a taste test.

The problem with this theory is that cables are supposedly designed to make these electromagnetic fields virtually undetectable. So even if sharks aren’t drawn to these currents, it’s possible that this behaviour can simply be attributed to sharky curiosity.

Apparently, 70% of damage to underwater cables can be attributed to ‘external aggression’. However, engineers are far more concerned with factors like fishing trawlers and anchors, and even water pressure and earthquakes, than with the potential damage caused by bite-happy sharks.

So although sharks aren’t exactly attacking undersea cables in droves, there’s evidence to suggest that stories of chewed-upon cables aren’t just an old fishwives’ tale. Thanks a lot, sharks – this is why we can’t have nice things.

Image credit: Elias Levy at Flickr

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