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Slate published an article recently, titled The Global Internet Is Being Attacked by Sharks, Google Confirms. Despite being catchy and all, most of the references seem to be other news outlets or actually contradict the claim.

Are there any sources supporting or contradicting that sharks are a threat to undersea cables?

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Would an article from the New York Times reporting shark attacks on underseas cables be sufficient evidence for you? –  georgechalhoub Aug 20 at 11:02
    
It depends on the quality of the article. The one quoted article is mere sensationlism –  Édouard Lopez Aug 20 at 12:01
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I would say the opposite: undersea cables are threat for sharks. –  isJustMe Aug 25 at 20:59

2 Answers 2

up vote 65 down vote accepted

Below are points of evidence supporting the fact that sharks are a threat to undersea cables.

EVIDENCE 1: The first report of sharks attacking cables came from the Canary Islands in 1985, when sharks' teeth were found embedded in an experimental cable. I found the report in an old news paper.

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According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Cable Protection Committee Ltd.,

Fish, including sharks, have a long history of biting cables as identified from teeth embedded in cable sheathings. Barracuda, shallow- and deep-water sharks and others have been identified as causes of cable failure. Bites tend to penetrate the cable insulation, allowing the power conductor to ground with seawater. Attacks on telegraph cables took place mainly on the continental shelf and continued into the coaxial era until 1964. Thereafter, attacks occurred at greater depths, presumably in response to the burial of coaxial and fibre- optic cables on the shelf and slope. Coaxial and fibre-optic cables have attracted the attention of sharks and other fish. The best-documented case comes from the Canary Islands, where the first deep-ocean fibre-optic cable failed on four occasions as a result of shark attacks in water depths of 1,060–1,900 m [3,478 to 6,234 feet].

See also:

Marra, L.J., 1989. Shark bite on the SL submarine light wave cable system: History, causes and resolution. IEEE Journal Oceanic Engineering 14: 230–237

EVIDENCE 2: A famous report by New York Times back in 1987 reported that the fibre optic cables linking the US, Europe and Japan were being nibbled persistently by sharks, causing phone and computer failures around the world.

The article also reported what was presented in Evidence 1, but adding as extra Dr. Nelson's claims:

In the report The finding that sharks are supersensitive to electrical signals, able to detect electric fields as faint as a few millionths of a volt per centimeter in water, is a recent significant discovery in marine science, Dr. Nelson said.

The sharks may detect a faint field near the cable and attack. "Not knowing any better, they try to eat it," Dr. Nelson said. "It's programmed in their genes. Whether the field comes from a cable or from a tin can, sharks are prone to behave as if they were encountering a food item, and try to eat it up."

EVIDENCE 3:

It seems that the funniest battle now is not Google vs. Amazon or Google vs. Microsoft, but Google vs. Sharks.

Based on the comments made by Dan Belcher, a product manager on Google's cloud team, during the opening keynote of the company's Cloud Roadshow in Boston last week; Google invests heavily in protecting its trans-continental infrastructure, including wrapping cables in Kevlar to thwart attacks by hungry sharks.

BONUS: A YouTube video showing a shark biting a submarine cable during a survey operation. It was spotted by a remotely operated underwater vehicle. .

enter image description here:

UPDATE: The cause isn't clear why Sharks bite cables.

Reasons for the attacks are uncertain, but sharks may be encouraged by electro magnetic fields from a suspended cable strumming in currents. However, when tested at sea and in the laboratory, no clear link between attacks, electromagnetic fields and strumming could be established. This lack of correlation may reflect differences between the behaviour of the deep-water sharks responsible for the bites and that of the shallow-water species used in the experiments. Whatever the cause, cables have been redesigned to improve their protection against fish biting.

UPDATE 2:

According to Submarine cables and the oceans: connecting the world report, external human aggression causes more faults for cables more than any other category, with fishing accounting for nearly half of all reported faults. Anchoring is the second major cause of faults, with dredging, drilling, seabed abrasion and earthquakes also causing significant numbers. However, natural hazards including seabed abrasion, shark bites account for less than 10 per cent of all faults.

Shark bites account for only 0.5% for all faults. They're consider a threat, but it's a minor threat.

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It makes sense to me too that sharks would be attracted to the cables because of their sensitivity to electrical fields. Is there no marine biologist that confirms this somewhere? –  Spork Aug 20 at 13:39
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> fibre-optic cables generate a stronger electrical field than the copper cables that preceded them Would you mind providing a source for that? Intuition would have me believe that optical cables don't generate an electrical field. –  Bob Aug 20 at 14:58
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I agree with @Bob, that sounds counter-intuitive. However, fibre-optic cables need amplifiers/repeaters every couple-hundred kilometers, I believe, and those would need power, which presumably has to be transmitted via the cable as well. (There's no sunlight down there, so photovoltaics is out. No tide and no temperature differential, either. Maybe currents, but anything mechanical would need maintenance.) –  Jörg W Mittag Aug 20 at 15:10
    
@Bob, it has been deleted from my answer since it doesn't add any significant value. –  georgechalhoub Aug 20 at 15:12
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@ÉdouardLopez "Evidence #5 report state 14 biting since the 50s', all fishes combined. Not much of a threat compare to others causes" SO WHAT? The evidence of the threat has been provided, the answer to your question. Evidence 5 has been removed also. –  georgechalhoub Aug 20 at 15:34

Sharks are an extremely small threat to undersea cable in regards to others causes as shown in the graphic below (from a report cited in @georgechalhoub's answer).

 Proportion of cable faults by cause, from a database of 2,162 records spanning 1959–2006

Data

Proportion of cable faults by cause, from a database of 2,162 records spanning 1959–2006

  1. Fishing 44.4%;
  2. Anchor 14.6%;
  3. Component 7.2%;
  4. Abrasion 3.7% ;
  5. Geological 2.6% ;
  6. Dredge/drill/pipeline 0.9% ;
  7. Fish bite 0.5% (include sharks) ;
  8. Iceberg 0.1% ;
  9. Other 4.8% ;
  10. Unknown 21.3%.

Take-away

  • Geological causes damage cables more frequently than sharks' bites ;
  • Sharks' bites are only 5 times more frequent than iceberg damage.
  • 14 fish bites (all species) in the last 50-60 years

Reference

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This doesn't answer the question. The question was whether it was threat or not, regardless of its significance. –  georgechalhoub Aug 20 at 15:46
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More accurately, sharks are only known to be an extremely small threat to undersea cables. That data set does not rule out the possibility that sharks are the second-largest threat. –  Kevin Krumwiede Aug 20 at 15:52
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I dislike this answer a lot. It does not answer the original answer fully, and there is nothing in this pie chart to suggest it as being 'non serious'. All it says is that it doesn't happen often. An undersea cable failure is extremely serious. With a 0.1% chance of nuclear disaster, would you say that's not a serious chance based on a pie chart? Solid -1. –  Spork Aug 21 at 0:43
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I think nobody in their right mind thought that sharks were the main source of undersea cable failures. –  Spork Aug 21 at 0:44
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@Robert it refer to cables' components –  Édouard Lopez Aug 25 at 19:58

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