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January 27, 2021

Tweeting Sharks – The new shark monitoring system

Despite a protest on Cottesloe Beach in Western Australia of 4,000 people against the Western Australian Government’s proposed decision to cull sharks over 3 metres long, the plan is still going ahead. The cull is a response to seven deaths and numerous other non-fatal attacks from sharks in W.A since 2010.

great white shark

The current system, which warns surfers, swimmers and beach goers of sharks, is a system relying on helicopter-based spotters and the public who report their own sightings. Now besides the new shark culling technique there is a new preference being introduced by the Department of Fisheries, which benefits both sharks and humans.

Known as the Shark Monitoring System it is a system that uses acoustic tags that are attached to the fins of individual sharks along with buoyed monitoring devices that pick up the signals transmitted by those tags. When the shark is in a 400-500 metre range of these monitors, which are placed along Perth’s coast, a signal transmits data via satellite to public safety officials at the department of fisheries shark monitoring system. The species of shark, size and location is then automatically recorded and posted to twitter.

shark tracking western australia
Above: Locations of receivers near Perth. Yellow dots indicate satellite linked acoustic receivers which transmit shark detection data. White dots indicate data recording acoustic receivers that data gets retrieved from annually.

So far there are 19 satellite linked monitors that keep track of 338 tagged sharks. The sharks that are tagged are Great Whites, Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks. The acoustic tags, which are called acoustic transmitters, are attached to the muscle near the dorsal fin using a tagging pole or internally implanted into sharks with a small surgical procedure.

These tags are not only warning beach goers of shark activity but the data is also being used to monitor and collect statistics on shark movements from South Australia to Western Australia over two years. This information will help researchers to investigate whether individual white sharks repeatedly visit particular locations off the lower west and south west of WA and the impact of environmental conditions on their numbers.

Some are arguing that this system of utilizing social media to warn beach goers of shark activity is giving the public a false sense of security.

Marine Biologist Dr. Andy Nosal from San Diego told Ten News that “even though you have sharks detected in the area if its raining or windy, anything that increases ambient noise is going to decrease the ability for those receivers to detect tagged sharks.”

Others have also complained that there are plenty of sharks still not tagged and there aren’t shark monitors on every part of W.A’s beaches.

Would you rather the Western Australian government cull sharks for human safety?

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