Science | #sharkatrack: tweeting sharks to save lives

They are commonly portrayed as the oceans’ deadly killing machines, responsible for savaging beach goers and terrifying sun bathers, but thanks to twitter you can now literally “follow” over 300 sharks off the Australian west coast.

This new initiative by the state of Western Australia and the Surf Life Saving twitter feed is providing real time locations of our jagged toothed friends when they stray too close to popular beaches.

In 2011 shark attacks were responsible for 17 deaths worldwide and although only representative of 10 per cent of the number of attacks reported, fatal shark attacks always grab the headlines.

Residents of Western Australia are welcoming this new scheme. 338 sharks including many Great Whites have been tagged with remote trackers that activate when they come within 0ne kilometer of special receptors positioned off the coast near popular beaches. Once a receptor is activated tweets are sent informing the 31,000 followers of @SLSWA of the size, breed, location and its orientation at the point of sighting.

The scheme is also of zoological and conservational interest. The trackers are estimated to last 10 years will provide far more detailed information on the sharks movements and behaviors and can aid to further understand these creatures.

The use of twitter is certainly more dignified and humane than the recent government policy of using the trackers to hunt and destroy potentially dangerous sharks. The program which uses bait and floats near eight popular beaches gives licenses for contracted fisherman to kill any shark over three meters and has been heavily criticised by conservationists and environmentalists.

Governments and skeptics who are unconvinced by the social media approach and are in favour of destructive and blunt methods may well be proven wrong.

Twitter is an incredibly efficient medium of information transfer, targeting the relevant demographic with far greater speed and ease than the traditional broadcasts on local radio or television. Over 70 per cent of Australia’s under 30s use social media regularly and are alerted to the latest news story on twitter or Facebook prior to TV, papers or radio. It’s that ability to deliver information to the target audience while it’s still relevant and useful which might see this scheme be successful. The result of which will see a reduction of shark attacks, saving of lives and protection of the fish.


Chris Chadburn

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