A Roeland Park couple has started selling jewelry that repels sharks — and not despite of their hometown’s 700-plus mile distance from the nearest ocean.
Rather, Shea and Geoff Geist have found a niche in the market for travelers like Shea who live with a “Jaws”-inspired fear of water. Their mission: To help people lose the fear and love the ocean by wearing shark-repellant jewelry.
Shea Geist said she still grapples with her own fears.
“I couldn’t even make into the deep end of the pool; serious problems with the water my whole life,” said Shea, chief executive officer and boss momma of the business. “To control my fear, even though I knew that the probability of being bitten by a shark was just ridiculously small — you are more likely to be struck by lightning twice than be bitten by a shark — understanding that had zero impact on whether or not I could get in the water because of my fear.”
Their business venture, Shark Off, kicked off in September 2017, but the Geists have been sitting on this venture for about three or four years.
One night, the couple saw a PBS program about a scientific technology: a metal alloy that repels sharks. Scientists Patrick Rice and Eric Stroud had developed SharkDefense, a technology that reduces the number of sharks accidentally caught and killed by commercial fishers.
A few years later, the Geists tested and engineered these bracelets, which contain three, silver-colored active elements made from a metal alloy. Once the metal alloy makes contact with water, it slowly dissolves over hundreds of hours (think of an antacid bubbling in a cup).
The process, called hydrolysis, creates a mild electric field — about a volt and a half — around the wearer for up to a meter. The electric field is undetectable to humans but “absolutely blinding” for sharks, Geoff said of the scientists’ research.
“You’ve heard they can smell blood miles away in the water; that’s actually true,” Geoff said. “They can also sense minute electrical impulses: Up to five one-billionths of a volt. So they can actually feel the heartbeat of another fish.”
The Geists found that, no matter its size, the metal alloy is limited to creating a barrier of one meter. One couldn’t place a school-bus sized block of the alloy near a beach and expect sharks to clear the area for miles.
But why set up shop in arguably the central-most part of the country?
“We are quite possibly the furthest we could ever be from an ocean in the United States,” Shea said, adding that their target market is people who are unfamiliar with the ocean.
The Geists said they found that people who spend the most time by the ocean, who live, work and play on the coastline, already understand the statistical improbability of a shark attack.
“The reason this works so well is because we’re not shark food,” Geoff said. “Anytime somebody gets bit by a shark, it’s what’s called an investigatory bite.”
For travelers who spend minimal time at the beach, those statistics ring hollow in the face of fear. The Geists said they want to stopper those fears, for the sake of humans and sharks alike.
“It’s really about helping people overcome their fear, so that they can enjoy the ocean,” Shea said.