A CLASSIFIED US military surveillance camera first developed during the Cold War to spot Russian submarines could be the silver bullet to the shark problem engulfing the Far North Coast.
A West Australian company with a track record of researching shark detection devices has sourced the high-tech device from a mystery US military contractor and developed it for shark spotting in Australian waters.
Dubbed the Shark Eye, it is a turret which can be attached to the underside of a plane, with five rotating lenses capable of taking seven photos every second.
Michael Mallis, CEO of Perth-based Sharkalert.net, said the $500,000 device could spot a shark in water up to 7m deep, while scanning more than 700 sq km of coastline per day from an altitude of 365m.
Sharkalert has commissioned a report from ASX-listed environmental consultancy Cardno, which sent researchers to the US and found the device had a 100% success rate. It has also been backed by Bond University shark attack specialist Dr Darryl McPhee.
The sophisticated software operating the camera can be calibrated to detect different objects, Mr Mallis said.
"We've actually customised the camera to look deep into the water to detect sharks. It's all about detecting sharks, nothing else," he said.
"As the plane moves alone it takes a different angle on the shark.
"We can sweep vast amount of ocean down to a previously impossible depth.
"We've got specific targeting software which actually puts a red square around the shark when it sees it."
A free app will transmit shark alerts to users' iPhones in a specified area.
"We've also got a (water safe) wristband in design which is a 3G smart watch which can pick up the app and tell you whether there is a shark within a kilometre of you," Mr Mallis said.
Asked how much it would cost, Mr Mallis said $2.5 million per year for a plane to fly 34 weeks a year - close to full-time once bad weather days are taken into account.
"We intend to fly past every 30 minutes," he said.
Globally significant technology unmatched
Mr Mallis said the company was already "two pages ahead" of state governments around the country, having trialled other new technologies such as drones and sonar and ruled them out.
"We've trialled very sophisticated Israeli sonar and concluded... it's not the answer," he said.
He also said the NSW Government could be spending its money better elsewhere than the current aerial surveillance regime.
Quoting from the 2012 Robbins aerial shark sighting report by the NSW DPI, he said the success rate for aerial surveillance from light planes was as low as 12%, why helicopters fared only marginally better at about 17%.
And because pilots will often at water off to one side more than 300m away rather than directly below, the effective success rate is even worse - dropping below 9%.
Mr Mallis was equally dismissive of drones.
"Drones, quadrocopters, they won't fly in wind.
"Once you get above about 12 or 13 knots (22-26kmh) they become unmanageable... they use more battery power just to stay in one spot, and they are not reliable.
"What would happen if one of those drones got out of control and crashed into a crowd at the beach?
"The (other) trouble with drones with CASA is you're not allowed to fly drones out of sight.
"It amazes me when I see governments buy drones... all they're doing is replicating what the helicopter sees, which is 17% at best.
"Their chances of seeing a shark that is actually there is very small.
"I don't see anything that the government is doing as actually being well thought through.
"There's a lot of arguments about whether the nets do anything at all apart from just kill dolphins and turtles and other sea life.
"Our technology actually works.
"It's a completely different way of looking at shark detection."
Hawaii test flight next month
Sharkalert is planning a field test on Hawaii next month to "prove the technology beyond doubt" and from there it's hoping to run a demonstration in Ballina early next year.
It also been shortlisted for a grant with the State Government.