Why Are Sharks Eating the Internet?

Sharks are eating the internet. That’s right. The underwater cables that connect you to this story are being slowly decimated by nature’s most fearsome undersea predators. But why?

The most recent reports surfaced out of Asia on Monday. That’s when communications companies in Vietnam reported that one of the country’s five undersea connections to the internet had been severed—possibly, they said, by feeding sharks. The Daily Dot reports that one section of the $500 million trans-Pacific cable between Hong Kong and Vietnam has been severed four times in the past six months. And YouTube videos surfaced from deep sea submersibles that captured what appears to be a shark taking a bite out of a large fiber-optic cable.

But the problem isn’t new. In 1987, the New York Times was first on the scene to report shark bites maiming undersea phone lines of the fledgling internet. In turn, undersea cable providers began wrapping their assets in kevlar. That practice was made more widely known in August at a Google event in Boston, where a Google product manager described the process. Some of the cables, like the trans-Pacific cable that was attacked on Monday span as far as 12,000 miles.

Why do sharks attack the cables?

Scientist are unsure. Sharks have long been known to use electromagnetic waves to forage for food, but fiber-optics on their own are not known to emit electromagnetic waves. They are, after all, just light. The Times report cites copper wiring within the cables that is used to carry electricity, and that could be a source for some attacks. But, not all cables still carry such wiring.

Sharks are also known to be naturally curious. Many of their attacks on humans—which are rarely fatal—result not from hunger but from curiosity.

What can be done to protect the internet from shark bites?

It’s no good keeping out of the water. Fiber optic cables carry data at rates far quicker than satellites. Kevlar coatings can help protect the cables, but that doesn’t always work. An outage in 2014 took 20 days to repair. It seems unlikely that local governments in the region will chip in to safeguard the internet, especially given North Korea’s recent propensity to knock it down themselves. For now, this looks like a classic battle of man versus nature—and that’s a fight that man rarely wins.