Dr. Evil, portrayed by Mike Myers in the 1997 film "Austin Powers," once said: "You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads! Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that cannot be done."
Turns out, sharks can have laser beams attached to their heads thanks to one ambitious marine biologist and a handheld laser manufacturing company.
The much belated experiment for fans of the Austin Powers franchise happened on April 24 in the Caribbean off the coast of the Bahamas, according to Wired. Sponsored by Hong-Kong based laser manufacturer Wicked Lasers, marine biologist and television host Luke Tipple joined forces with the laser supplier to attach a 50-milliwatt S3 Krypton green laser to the head of a lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) named, ironically enough, Mr. Bigglesworth, after the cat in “Austin Powers.”
The idea began thanks to a social media campaign from Wicked Lasers. The manufacturer promised that if the post received 2,000 "likes" on Facebook within a few weeks, it would attach a laser to a sharks head.
But the experiment wasn't only to bring a memorable movie quote to fruition. According to Tipple, adding laser beams to the sharks' heads allowed him to test a few new ideas: a new non-invasive clamping apparatus, sharks' attraction or repulsion from lasers of set wavelengths and spectrums and to measure a shark's velocity and trajectory.
"This was definitely a world first," Tipple told Wired. "Initially, I told them no. I thought it was a frivolous stunt. But then I considered that it would give us an opportunity to test our clips and attachments, and whatever is attached to that clip, I really don't care. It was a low-powered laser that couldn't be dangerous to anyone, and there's actually useful applications in having a laser attached to the animal."
Tipple ended up finding that the sharks were attracted to laser beams, despite previous reports that sharks avoid laser energy, and "how their body positioning relates to a target."
"You can get a very clear description, via the laser, of what the shark's body is doing," he said.
However, for Tipple, attaching the "non-invasive clamp" designed with gel pads to prevent slippage proved to be problematic.
"The shark didn't really like it when I initially deployed the clamp," Tipple told Wired, "but after a few seconds it returned to normal behavior. The clamp itself isn't strong enough to cause any pain, and the dorsal fin is actually not very sensitive due to it being composed primarily of cartilage."
As for the laser, the process was not harmful for anyone, including Tipple, the shark and other sea dwellers.
"The laser we were using wasn't strong enough to cause ocular or thermal damage to other sea life," Tipple said.
And despite the fictional Dr. Evil's plan to use sharks with "frickin'" laser beams to take over the world, Wicker Lasers CEO Steve Liu told Wired that sharks with lasers pose no threat to life.
"Depending on the power of the laser that they are armed with, the sharks could be significantly more dangerous,"Liu told Wired. "If there was a way the shark could operate the laser on its own accord and use it against humans, we wouldn't even attempt this."
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