UK & World News

  • 26 December 2013, 14:12

Australia: Sharks Use Twitter To Warn Swimmers

Sharks in Western Australia swimming close to popular beaches are using Twitter to send warning messages to surfers and swimmers.

The unique project means beach goers can make an informed decision about whether to go in the water knowing a shark is nearby.

Scientists have attached transmitters to more than 320 sharks, including great whites, which monitor their movements up and down the coast.

When a tagged shark swims within about a kilometre of a beach, it triggers an alert which is picked up by computer. That computer then instantly turns the shark's signal into a short message on Surf Life Saving Western Australia's (SLSWA) Twitter feed.

The tweet gives the size and breed of the shark, and its approximate location.

Chris Peck, from SLSWA, told Sky News the system is far quicker than traditional warnings on local radio and in newspapers.

"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.

"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," he said.

Department of Fisheries principal research scientist, Dr Rory McAuley, said acoustic tags provided knowledge on sharks, as well as alerts.

"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," Dr McAuley said.

"The battery life of internal acoustic tags is up to 10 years so the scientific data that may be collected from this shark is unprecedented."

Western Australia is now the world's deadliest place for shark attacks. Surfer Chris Boyd, 35, was killed in November and was the sixth person to die in the region in just two years.

Authorities in the state have patrolled beaches using helicopters and boats for years, but the recent spate of attacks has prompted the local government to look at new ways of trying to prevent incidents.

Ministers have just agreed to a controversial scheme allowing professional fishermen to kill sharks larger than three metres found in certain zones which are used by surfers and beach goers.

And bait will be put out one kilometre off shore to attract and catch sharks during the summer.

State Premier Colin Barnett recently told reporters: "The safety of human life, the safety of beach goers using our marine environment must come first."

It is a move that has angered environmentalists.

Ross Weir, from the group Western Australians for Shark Conservation (WASC), said: "This is a simple knee-jerk reaction, based on zero science.

"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."

Conservationists have said they will consider direct action to disrupt any culling of sharks.

While the chances of being attacked by a shark are minuscule, every incident causes fear, and damages the local economy and tourism.

Whether it is using Twitter, or introducing a cull, Australians are now wrestling with how best to deal with a growing problem.

:: Watch Sky News live on television, on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.

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