Citizen scientists help shark conservation

By Phoebe Baldwin April 15, 2015
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Shark researchers in Perth are recruiting the public to gather shark sighting data.

EXPERTS AT THE University of Western Australia are asking for help in recording shark sightings, using the website SharkBase. This is a global shark encounter file made by the Support Our Sharks (SOS) Ocean Conservation Society.

By logging sightings online, people can provide vital information about the distribution and abundance of sharks. This information will be used to improve understanding of populations and ecosystem health.

Citizen science is becoming a popular way for researchers to get help with collecting and analysing data, and nearly everyone has access to a computer, smartphone or digital camera, which can be used to record data about wildlife encounters.

Finding sharks can be very time-consuming for scientists, says Dr Ryan Kempster, UWA shark biologist and founder of SOS.

Submit your shark sightings online

“Through SharkBase, we now have a place to bring all of these sightings together, to be used by scientists, to better understand the distribution and population structure of sharks around the world,” he says.

It is also possible to contribute without directly encountering sharks, by submitting sightings from the news or internet. By using non-invasive methods to collect data, SharkBase aims to minimise potentially harmful data collection methods, such as tagging.

Sharks are important keystone species in ocean ecosystems. Despite this, an average of 100 million are killed by people each year, and many species are on the brink of extinction.

“Unfortunately, many sharks are at significant risk of unrecoverable decline, with some species having declined to near extinction… We believe that citizen science could hold the key to improving our understanding and management of shark populations, whilst also advancing community education,” Ryan says.

Get involved and contribute your own shark sightings on the SharkBase website.