Western Australian sharks send tweets to swimmers
By Ben Coxworth
December 31, 2013
More shark attacks occur in Western Australia than almost anyplace else on Earth. In order to help protect swimmers and surfers, the state government relies largely on helicopter-based spotters, plus members of the public who report their own sightings. Now, however, the Department of Fisheries has introduced a new system, in which the toothy fishes announce their own presence via Twitter.
Known as the Shark Monitoring Network, the system utilizes acoustic tags that are attached to the fins of individual sharks, along with buoyed monitoring devices that pick up the signals transmitted by those tags. When a tagged shark swims within range of one of the monitors, its species, size and location is automatically recorded.
That information is transmitted via satellite to a computer, which immediately posts it on Twitter. A tweet made just today reads, "Fisheries advise: tagged Bronze whaler shark detected at Garden Island (north end) receiver at 08:46:00 PM on 31-Dec-2013." By contrast, a fair amount of time can elapse between a sighting being made by a person, and that information being manually written up and shared via more traditional media.
So far the system utilizes 19 satellite-linked monitors, that keep track of 338 tagged sharks – species include great whites, tigers and bulls. Needless to say, there are still plenty of untagged sharks swimming near the beaches of Western Australia, plus the monitors don't cover every square kilometer of coastline. For that reason, the network is intended to augment existing spotting systems, not replace them.
The Department of Fisheries developed the network in partnership with Surf Life Saving Western Australia, which carries the tweets on its Twitter feed.