Sharks In Western Australia Using Twitter To Warn Swimmers Of Their Presence
Sharks in Australia have begun using Twitter, with great white sharks such as @TheRealJawsShark tweeting out things like, "Just chomped on some fool's leg #YOLO." Well, sort of. The group Surf Life Saving WA has outfitted 320 sharks in Western Australia with transmitters that send out a tweet when a shark gets within half a mile from shore. The tweet announces the type, size and location of the shark, like this recent message from Surf Life Saving:
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Fisheries advise: White Shark 2.5 - 3m, had been sighted at Rottnest 500m offshore from Pt Clune. Sighting @ 1535 Reported @ 1610
— Surf Life Saving WA (@SLSWA) December 26, 2013
Radio and newspapers have traditionally been the ways that officials get the word out about sharks near popular beaches. But if it's a Saturday afternoon and suddenly there's a shark in the water, yesterday's newspaper isn't going to help you much, said Chris Peck from Surf Life Saving.
"You might not have got some of that information until the following day in which case the hazard has long gone and the information might not be relevant," said Peck. "Now it's instant information and really people don't have an excuse to say we're not getting the information, it's about whether you are searching for it and finding it."
The transmitters also serve a purpose other than tweeting safety information to swimmers. The transmitters, which have batteries that can last up to a decade, will provide scientists with "unprecedented" scientific data on the movements of great white sharks, according to Rory McAuley, the principal research scientist for Australia's Department of Fisheries.
"These detections and WA's extensive receiver network are contributing to important research to help the Government to better understand the movements of white sharks through WA waters, as well as playing a major public safety role," said McAuley.
Western Australia is one of the world's deadliest places for shark attacks, routinely sitting towards the top of the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File. In the past two years, six people have been killed in Western Australia waters. Fears over shark attacks have hurt Western Australia tourism, and the government is advancing with a controversial plan allowing commercial fisherman to lure sharks with baited drums and kill any shark that is over three meters long. Unsurprisingly, anyone who knows something about sharks is panning the plan, calling it just plain stupid.
"This is a simple knee-jerk reaction, based on zero science," Ross Weir of the group Western Australians for Shark Conservation told Sky News. "It's not going to have any positive benefit for beach goers and their safety and it's certainly going to have a decimating effect on any great white sharks or other endangered shark species."
George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, is equally un-smitten with Western Australia's shark-culling plan.
"The concept of 'let's go out and kill them' is an archaic approach to a shark attack problem, and its opportunities for success are generally slim-to-none," said Burgess. "It's mostly a feel-good revenge--like an 'eye for an eye' approach--when in fact you're not likely to catch the shark that was involved in the situation. The shark that was involved in the situation also isn't necessarily likely to do it again."
The solution, according to Burgess, is a common sense approach regarding swimming in shark-infested waters: don't do it. Swimmers in Western Australia "have been getting hit in areas of known white shark abundance at times of year when white shark numbers are at their highest." You can try and kill all the sharks you want, but in the end, Burgess says, "the responsibility is upon us, as humans, to avoid such situations or else pay the consequence."
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