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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Some Australian Sharks Are Now On Twitter

A new monitoring system sends tweets to alert beachgoers of nearby sharks. But how effective will it be?

by: Trent Knoss

photo: Wikimedia Commons
photo: Wikimedia Commons

Like it or not, sharks are joining the Twittersphere.

Well, the sharks themselves won't be tweeting, exactly, but beachgoers in Western Australia will still be able to keep close tabs on them. NPR reports that scientists have tagged more than 300 sharks with transmitters that deliver location data to a network of acoustic buoys moored offshore. Now, whenever a shark comes within half a mile of the coast, the buoys automatically send out a warning tweet via the Surf Lifesaving WA account. Here's an example:

The high-tech system has drawn praise from scientists and public officials alike as an innovative way to prevent human/animal conflicts and provide earlier warnings to the general public when a shark is in the area. Not every shark is tagged, however, leading some to worry that the danger will be misunderstood:

Kim Holland, a marine biologist who leads shark research at the University of Hawaii, [says] that the tweets won't be enough to protect swimmers.

"It can, in fact, provide a false sense of security that is, if there is no tweet, then there is no danger and that simply is not a reasonable interpretation," Holland says, pointing out that the reverse is also true. "Just because there's a shark nearby doesn't mean to say that there's any danger. In Hawaii, tiger sharks are all around our coastlines all the time, and yet we have very, very few attacks."

The sharks themselves may not enjoy being tagged with the transmitters, but the alternative is to be culled. Last month, Western Australia announced controversial plans to aggressively bring down the population in order to reduce attacks on swimmers. Australia has averaged just over one shark-related fatality per year over the past two decades, but there have been six in the past two years alone.

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