Pixel Tracker

Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 7:28 am | Fair 53º


Outdoors Q&A: Will Painting My Kayak Spook White Sharks?

While the concept is intriguing, an orca-appearing structure may not prevent an attack

Q: I bought a former scuba kayak and have retrofitted it into a fishing kayak. I transformed the underside into what appears to be the underside of a killer whale (orca) because I figure if I’m going to be spending lots of idle time fishing, I don’t want — in any way — to attract the attention of great whites.

Carrie Wilson
Carrie Wilson

The underside was totally white, but now the outer edges are black with a small black patch at the rear so that it looks just like the characteristic underside of a killer whale. I also rigged up my two fins to drag out the back of the kayak in case I ever find myself in dire need.

My reasoning here is killer whales and great whites are natural enemies, so if I paint the bottom like an orca, any great white within several hundred yards will take off. As I thought more about this aspect, though, I now wonder if while I’m sitting in this thing for long periods of time, will I be more apt to be a target rather than a threat? Has there been any evidence of great whites attacking dead killer whales just like they attack dead regular whales? I’m wondering now if I am a soon to be “dead duck” instead of a brilliant kayak engineer! Please advise. (Mark)

A: Well, I can safely say I’ve never gotten a letter and questions quite like yours, but it’s a refreshing change from the many regulation questions. I applaud your kayak engineering prowess. However, I’m not sure painting the hull of your kayak to resemble the underbelly of an orca, along with attaching fins that mysteriously drag out the back, will spook a white shark or prevent an attack.

Most attacks on humans most likely have been the result of mistaken identity when they resembled seals or sea lions (pinnipeds), the white shark’s prey preference. The sharks queue in on outlines or shadows of objects at the surface that they think resemble a prey item, and this is often in murky water. White sharks are ambush predators and usually attack unsuspecting prey with a charge from below. Orcas are white sharks’ only predators, but whether your kayak hull painting actually will resemble an orca to a white shark spying it through murky water, and then alter its behavior, will be your experiment.

Keep in mind that sharks are curious animals without sharp eyesight, but they do have an exceptional sense of smell for detecting attractive odors (blood and dead things), even in small quantities. They also have acute senses for detecting through the water even the slightest movements they associate with prey or distressed creatures.

Given this, the presence of an orca-appearing structure floating motionless at the surface may not increase the likelihood that a shark will mistake your kayak for a dead orca or an easy meal. However, if your fishing is successful and you hang lots of wiggling dying fish on a stringer over the side or put a bunch of fish blood in the water, well, then your kayak just might appear more intriguing to them.

Although it happens, attacks on kayaks are very rare, and if all white sharks knew how lousy kayaks tasted, they probably wouldn’t ever bother them.

Once a white shark has bitten its prey and found it unappealing (e.g. skinny humans, kayaks or other nonmarine mammal items), they will often move on in search for something with fatty blubber that’s more caloric. Unfortunately, it takes only one inquisitive “sample bite” from an inexperienced or curious white shark to do great harm to most people.

Finally, you must realize that white sharks inhabit coastal waters year-round and may be swimming around you all the time, even if you don’t see them. However, I would think the less your kayak looks like a seal or sea lion (thus, remove those trailing swim fins), the lower your chances are of a negative white shark encounter via mistaken identity. Even if you make your kayak look like something completely outlandish that you think would frighten any white shark off completely, there are no guarantees of anything unless you just stay out of the ocean. And you don’t want to do that now, do you?

Click here for more information on white sharks.

— Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.