Shark Bytes: This historical dataset could help scientists better understand sharks

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By AG STAFF

July 6, 2022


For the first time, the oldest historical record of human-shark interactions in Australia is now accessible online. This follows a growing trend to make scientific datasets accessible, maximizing the use and impact of the data. Taronga’s Australian Shark Incident Database (ASID) describes over 1,000 shark-human interactions that have occurred in Australia over the past 230 years.

The Australian Shark Incident Database (ASID) is accessible to scientists and analysts to identify patterns and links between shark bites and environmental, biological or social factors. This will help conservationists, authorities, and members of the public determine conditions affecting shark bite risk and make informed decisions when implementing or selecting mitigation measures.

This shark incident record (formerly known as the Australian Shark Attack File) was founded by John West in the 1980s and has been maintained by the Taronga Conservation Society Australia since 1984. This data, curated by shark experts of Taronga, were obtained using completed questionnaires. by victims or witnesses of shark bites, media reports and information provided by state and territory fisheries departments. Recently, the dataset was standardized by researchers at Flinders University and Taronga.

“Such long-term, comprehensive datasets are rare in the world of marine science, with most data being collected over short periods of time, limiting understanding of the larger patterns and processes at play,” says Dr Phoebe Meagher de Taronga, curator of the database. “Sharing this data in an anonymized, peer-reviewed way means we can learn from these tragic events and how to secure a shared ocean for sharks and humans.

“New opportunities to maximize the impact of this data, particularly around long-term climate patterns and shark behavior, are also an exciting possibility,” adds Dr Meagher.

Database includes geographic location of incident, weather conditions, victim recovery status, activity at time of bite (such as surfing or boating), shark species and the time of the incident – although all identifying information of the people has been removed. An article describing the data was recently published in of nature Scientific data.

Related: Australia’s Deadly Shark Attacks: A Timeline

“Excitingly, this data could be used to optimize the design of mitigation measures. For example, shark deterrent devices currently under development can be prioritized in wetsuits or surfboards to reduce the severity of injuries and fatalities,” says the lead author and shark bite researcher. shark, Madeline Riley, of Flinders University.

The potential causes of the increase in shark bites in Australia are still unclear. “Globally and in Australia, shark bites on humans have increased steadily over the past few decades,” says Professor Charlie Huveneers of Flinders University. “However, this increase is not happening everywhere, with shark bites decreasing in some regions and remaining stable in others. This reflects the wide variability in the risk of being bitten by a shark.

“It is unlikely to be related to a single factor and a combination of reasons are likely contributing to the increase in shark bites, including a growing human population spending more time doing water activities and recuperating. shark populations or changes in shark occurrences along the sea coast,” adds Prof Huveneers.

Environmental and habitat variations, such as changes in water temperature, prey redistribution, and climate change, also potentially contribute to changes in shark bite numbers and increased shark bites. occurrences in some regions.

In addition to helping individuals predict the likelihood of a shark bite, ASID could also help policy makers and ocean recreation enthusiasts make informed decisions when selecting and implementing measures. most appropriate shark bite mitigation.

Related: Ultimate Guide to Australian Sharks

For example, by assessing the most common activity at the time of a shark bite (eg, surfing, swimming, diving), mitigation strategies can be focused on region-specific high-risk activities. Analysts can also use the data to assess long-term changes in species distribution resulting from phenomena such as climate change.

Dr Vic Peddemors, a shark scientist with NSW’s Department of Primary Industries, explained how the database can provide a direct benefit to authorities responsible for bather safety.

“Allowing access to a standardized database of shark-human interactions enables the ongoing determination of their trends and the development of potential shark risk mitigation measures, such as those implemented by the NSW Government in the new $85 million shark management program.”

View Australia’s Shark Incident Database on line.

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