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Anyone who has seen Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws has a pretty good idea of how threatening sharks can be. A shark would be a terrifying danger for swimmers to encounter in the open ocean. Interestingly enough, sharks aren’t just a threat to humans and other creatures swimming in the sea, but also to our online world.
Fiber-optic cables carry data across continents, making them the backbone of the internet. The optical fibers in these cables can transmit data at up to one Gigabit per second (1 Gbps). Sharks sometimes attack the fiber-optic cables crisscrossing the ocean floor, which can negatively impact the Internet. The reason for this behavior is unclear, but some researchers believe that sharks, which can sense electromagnetic fields, may be mistaking the electrical current for food. Others suggest that sharks may simply be curious about the cables. Sharks aren’t the only ones to blame, however. Streamer cables, another name for fiber-optic cables, also get damaged by ship hulls, anchors, and undersea earthquakes.
Despite the damage to these cables caused by shark bites, we probably don’t need to worry about catastrophic Internet failure. For one, we don’t rely on a single path to deliver data. There are multiple cables across the ocean floor. Telecom companies can switch traffic over to different routes if a shark bite destroys a cable. And engineers have laid sturdier, well-armored cables across the sea floor to prevent severe damage.
Telecoms and the undersea world:
- The first undersea cable (a telegraph line) was completed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1866. Similar cables have connected many different land masses. In 1902, the United States was connected to Hawaii. In 1964, Hawaii was linked with Japan.
- According to Network World, Google has had to resort to wrapping their internet cables in Kevlar-like material because of damage caused by shark bites.
- There are approximately 200 reports of cable breakages/failures each year. The majority of these problems are not caused by sharks but by accidental human activity.