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Lemon shark in Bahamas

Dear Evil Engineer: Could I use sharks with laser beams to entertain my guests?

Image credit: Dreamstime

Another villain seeks our evil engineer’s help, this time with a problem with sharks that don’t have a taste for humans.

Illustration of sharks with laser beams

E&T Magazine

Image credit: E&T Magazine

 

Dear Evil Engineer,

I hope you may be able to provide an engineering solution to an embarrassing problem I’ve been faced with. Last year, I purchased a pair of lemon sharks (Goober and Bean) to keep in the tank behind my desk. They are suitably large and threatening in appearance, with blank, dead eyes and nightmarish jaws. I restricted their food (fish) for a week before introducing their first human meal: a chemist who had raised so-called ethical concerns about my projects. To my disgust, the sharks were disinterested and left her to escape. I had made plans to execute a prisoner by shark as evening entertainment following a regional villainous innovation roundtable I was due to host, but I was forced to shelve that plan for the avoidance of embarrassment and bring in Toby Young as an after-dinner speaker instead.

I have been looking after Goober and Bean for nine months now, and they will only eat fish. They make my lair look suitably menacing but I may as well have bought penguins for all the practical use they have been. I tried writing to the Evil Biologist, who advised me that lemon sharks are not known to attack humans. This was unhelpful.

This situation could be transformed for my benefit if it were possible to arm my sharks with lethal weapons with which they could kill people without harming each other. Laser beams would be my preference. How should I proceed?

Yours,
An animal-loving villain

 

Dear villain,

Do not allow Goober and Bean’s reluctance to kill to affect your feelings of self-worth; a villain is made by their actions, not by their accessories. However, I understand that you may feel cheated given that you acquired these sharks for the very purpose of intimidating your enemies. I think it is possible to arm your sharks, although I would not recommend using laser beams.

There is precedent for attaching laser beams to sharks; in 2012, the Hong Kong-based company, Wicked Lasers, sponsored a marine biologist to attach 50mW green lasers to the dorsal fin of a lemon sharks in an inventive PR drive. Lamentably, a 50mW laser is far too weak to do any damage. Affixing devices like these to whales, turtles and sharks is commonplace in research, and there are well-honed techniques and tools for attachment. For sharks, this could involve prodding a tag into the skin with a small barb, implanting a tag through a minor surgical procedure, or using a non-invasive clamp. The latter can be securely attached to the shark’s dorsal fin, which has no nerve supply. It is preferable to attach devices to the dorsal fin not just for the sake of convenience but also due to sharks’ extreme sensibility to electrical fields (electroreception), which could potentially be disturbed by a powerful electrical device placed close to the brain. I would recommend using a non-invasive clamp for these purposes, as that marine biologist did in 2012.

The real problem is in selecting an appropriate laser weapon. As I previously explained to a villain-in-distress, using lasers to cut through human flesh is possible, but a tedious process for lasers below the region of tens of thousands of watts, and these lasers are simply too large and heavy to be mounted on top of a shark. Even a handheld laser of around 5kW could prove too unwieldy, as it would need to be connected to a mains electricity supply or a very large power pack. This would not only be a logistical headache, but would compromise
the aesthetic quality of your shark tank. Besides, even a 5kW laser could weaken the glass of your shark tank if concentrated on one spot for extended periods of time (unlike some other species, lemon sharks remain immobile while they sleep).

A possible high-tech solution could involve attaching a power bank, a camera and small computing device to your sharks’ dorsal fins along with a ~5kW laser. You could run a facial-recognition programme on board which switches on the laser only when the camera detects a human face, with exceptions for yourself and your staff if possible. This would not only be more energy efficient, but would minimise the risk of Goober and Bean harming each other.

The downside to all of these laser-based solutions is that lasers are less intimidating as underwater weapons, due to a large fraction of energy being absorbed by water before the beam reaches the target. This would affect red lasers (longer wavelengths) more severely than green, blue, and violet lasers (shorter wavelengths). Unless you could train Goober and Bean to breach the water and target prisoners swimming at the surface, absorption will seriously limit the range of your weapons. You may find that an underwater firearm or spear gun mounted atop a shark and triggered upon detection of a face a more reliable weapon.

The technical difficulty involved in delivering powerful enough laser beams while underwater and while limited to small devices – while not insurmountable – could prove more trouble than it is worth. I would suggest switching to a weapon less restricted by underwater use. Alternatively, if you have space for a second tank in your lair, you could fill it with a species more partial to human flesh, such as red-bellied piranhas. Moray eels look the part, can be dangerous when provoked, and can be kept in tanks.

Alternatively, you could replace Goober and Bean with realistic prop sharks on special occasions and run deadly currents through the water to execute your prisoners, accompanied by an enjoyable laser show. If you restrict this stunt to after-dinner entertainment, nobody will be in a fit enough state to know they are being bamboozled.

Yours,
The Evil Engineer

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