May 4, 2012 at 1:30 PM ET
How do you make a shark even more terrifying? By attaching a 50mW laser to it, of course. No, that's not a dumb attempt at a joke — it's an actual thing that a marine biologist did to the dorsal fin of a lemon shark... for science. (But mostly for publicity.)
As part of what some are calling (loosely) an experiment, marine biologist and Shark Week regular Luke Tipple attached a green laser to a shark in the Caribbean Sea. Tipple used a non-invasive clamp to attach the laser, designed to attach without causing pain to the animal. Over time, the clamp breaks down until it eventually falls off, per its design.
Knowing the methodology is all well and good, but the most important question here has to be "why?" Why would anyone attach a laser to a shark? In an email to Tecca, Tipple said that the stunt "was never initiated as a research project but did in the end lead to some promising results." Supposedly, the test also helped prove the effectiveness of the clamps, helped determine if sharks indeed avoid light of specific wavelengths, and measured the shark's velocity and trajectory.
At 50mW, the laser is relatively tame — strong enough that you can't look directly at it, but not strong enough to do serious damage. It's a long way off from the most powerful laser in the world, currently being used in California to attempt a start at a nuclear fusion reaction.
If the idea of a shark with a laser sounds familiar to you, it probably is — the idea was first offered by villain Dr. Evil in the 1997 movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. But that pop culture tie-in has a number of marine animal experts fuming that Tipple's is engaging in little more than an irresponsible promotion. Said assistant professor Neil Hammerschlag of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, "if this is just to respond to a scene in the Austin Powers movie, I don't see value. You're just causing unnecessary stress on the animal. It's not respectful."
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