Recent plans in Western Australia to place acoustic tags in sharks and have them tweet their location when they approach a beach have resulted in a sharknado of media coverage. The plan has been covered by internet technology news giant Mashable, Fox News, NPR news, Popular Science, and NBC news (which, with “sharks with frickin’ tweets,” has what I believe to be the best headline. That one also interviews me.) When a tagged shark approaches the beach, a tweet like this results:
I can understand why a project involving both sharks and twitter caught the media’s eye… and why about a billion of you e-mailed or tweeted the news to me. However, these aren’t the first sharks to be on twitter!
1) Hector the Blue Shark!A project of the Ecology Action Center, Hector talks about Canadian shark fisheries management from the perspective of a blue shark.Hector recently covered the porbeagle fishery and associated proposals at ICCAT, a major fisheries management meeting. You can learn more about Hector (and the important marine conservation issues he discusses) at his website.
With respect to his Australian cousins, Hector told me “it’s nice to know I will be less outnumbered on twitter now, but these Australian sharks are hardly the first.”
2) Domino the whale shark (and friends)! Domino is a satellite tagged whale sharks associated with an ongoing Georgia Aquarium research project. He (and other satellite tagged whale sharks) tweet their locations whenever the tags transmit, and they also answer people’s questions about whale sharks (and associated marine conservation issues). Domino’s personality is delightfully sarcastic, and he has referred to himself as a “big spotty ninja” and a “roomba for the oceans” in recent months. You can track Domino and his friends from this website.
Domino said of the new Western Australian sharks that “we all do it a bit differently, but yeah, they’re not the first.”
3) Mary Lee the great white shark! The most famous of the three, Mary Lee is a great white shark that was satellite tagged by OCEARCH. Mary Lee tweets about her location, the biology and behavior of great white sharks, and news coverage about her movements. You can learn more about OCEARCH’s research here.
If I forgot any other sharks on twitter, please let me know in the comments.
Thanks for pointing that out David, because the WA sharks are definitely not the first. There are also some key differences people should be aware of. Mary Lee and Hector are avatars for tagged sharks, but they are operated by human minders. Wheres_Domino started out the same way, but after 2013 the majority of tweets were generated automatically whenever a satellite location was received from the ARGOS satellite network. That means Domino is a bona fide part of the Internet of Things. Perhaps most importantly, the Aussie sharks aren’t tweeting at all as far as I can tell; it is the acoustic DETECTORS that are tweeting when they sense an acoustically tagged shark nearby. Some might argue that this is semantics, but if the WA sharks don’t go near the beach – no tweets – whereas the other three will tweet (manually or automatically, as the case may be) wherever they are. You could legitimately argue that the beach is tweeting, not the shark.
There’s more info about the program behind @Wheres_Domino here http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/support-us/conservation/research-on-whale-sharks.aspx and here http://www.bluerealmproject.org/
Thanks for the extra insight Al!