Just when you thought it was safe to run internet cables in the water, it appears sharks have developed the taste for data.
A Google project manager named Dan Belcher reportedly told attendees at a company marketing event in Boston last week that sharks like to chomp on the fiber optic internet cables Google runs along the ocean floor to connect the continents, according to Network World, which first reported the story. It’s such a problem that the company is wrapping its cables under the Pacific Ocean in a coating similar to Kevlar, the tough synthetic material used to make ballistic vests and body armor.
Google doesn’t have much to say about why sharks would want to chow down on the internet. One possible reason, George Burgess of the Florida Program for Shark Research tells USA Today, is that sharks can detect electromagnetic fields. It’s a talent called electroreception, which allows them to pick up on faint electrical signals that fish emit. Sharks might be confused by the signal that escapes from the cable and think it is prey.
However, Chris Lowe from the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach, says there’s another explanation: Sharks just like to bite things. They’d probably attack a simple piece of plastic in the shape of a cable, he tells Wired.
Here’s a video of a shark attack on a submarine cable:
Whatever the reason, the problem isn’t new. There have been reports of sharks attacking fiber optic cables ever since companies starting laying them in the ocean in the 1980s. According to a report from the International Cable Protection Committee, the first deep ocean fiber optic cable, built in 1989, failed on four separate occasions because of shark attack. “Bites tend to penetrate the cable insulation, allowing the power conductor to ground with seawater,” it says.
Wrapping undersea cables in many protective layers is now standard operating procedure for Google, and for good reason: There’s a lot of money to be made in providing faster transmission speeds to Asia. Google is currently building multiple lines to the continent, including one $300 million cable that would connect U.S. west coast cities including Los Angeles and Seattle to Japan.