Selected conference tweets from Sharks International #Sharks14

I’ve just returned from the second Sharks International, a scientific conference for shark and ray researchers, which was held in South Africa. With nearly 300 researchers and conservationists from more than 38 countries in attendance, the conference was a fantastic learning and networking experience, and a huge success.

In addition to countless talks focusing on cool discoveries about amazing animals and important conservation issues from all over the world,  I don’t think I ate one meal at a table with fewer than 4 countries represented.   Our lab, the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami, gave 3 scientific  presentations, including my own, which was well-received and resulted in some fascinating discussions. The “social media for scientific outreach” workshop I gave had more than 50 people attend, resulting in a couple of dozen scientists newly joining twitter.

Speaking of twitter, more than 7,000 tweets (including re-tweets) were shared using the conference hashtag #Sharks14 ! Below are links to 8 Storify stories I made: 4 plenary sessions and 4 days of scientific presentations. * Scientists, if any of the tweets about your talk are incorrect, please alert me in the comments and I’ll edit or delete them immediately. *

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A Shark Week 2013 retrospective…with memes!


As Shark Week 2013 comes to a close, I wanted to take a look back at which part of my outreach strategy worked (and didn’t work), as well as what I liked and disliked about Shark Week as a whole. Ever since my “15 important shark conservation and management terms explained with memes” post, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to incorporate more internet humor into a blog post, so here goes…

While this Shark Week allowed scientists  like myself to reach the public on a large scale, most of the content was...troubling.

While this Shark Week allowed scientists like myself to reach the public on a large scale, most of the content was…troubling.

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Tweets from the American Elasmobranch Society: Gruber Award (best student presentation) talks


AESlogoThe American Elasmobranch Society is a non-profit professional organization of shark, ray, skate, and chimaera scientists. Each year, AES holds an annual conference in a different North American city where members meet and present their research. The 2013 meeting took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico from July 10-15th. The full schedule of talks (including other societies participating in the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists) can be found here

Below are selected tweets from the Gruber Award (best student presentation) talks.

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Should scientists avoid publishing shark migration data because it helps fishermen? Spoiler: No


I work with a lab that satellite tags sharks to study their migration patterns, such as this large female tiger shark in the Bahamas

Our lab satellite tags sharks to study their migration patterns, such as this large female tiger shark in the Bahamas. Note the tag on the dorsal fin

In recent weeks, some conservation activists have been promoting an idea that I would like to respond to as a member of the scientific community. They claim that scientists shouldn’t publish data about shark migrations, movement, or population dynamics because such data helps fishermen to find areas where there are lots of sharks and kill them. This  misguided anti-science paranoia demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding about how conservation policy works.

Fishermen are neither having trouble finding sharks nor relying on the scientific community to learn where they are. In fact, this is exactly why such studies are needed.

Shark migration and habitat usage data are critical to developing effective management plans. One of the ten guiding principles of the U.N. International Plan of Action for Sharks is to “determine and protect critical habitats.” As we can’t stop all shark fishing in the entire ocean*, the goal is to identify the most important habitats (i.e. nursery areas, mating aggregation locations, etc).  and focus conservation efforts on those. We can’t effectively protect sharks if we don’t know where they are, when they are there, and (ideally) what they are doing there.

Detailed data on population dynamics are critical for developing science-based sustainable catch limits. If managers don’t know how many sharks are in a population, they can’t accurately determine how many can be sustainably fished (and in many cases, just saying “don’t fish for them at all” is a cop-out that ignores the reality of the situation*).

Finally, detailed population data is also necessary for determining which species are the most threatened. If we weren’t monitoring population sizes, we wouldn’t know that some species are in need of additional legal protections. Indeed, most strong legal protections (Endangered Species Act, CITES, certain RFMO rules including quota reductions, etc) can’t be implemented without detailed scientific data showing that the species is declining in population.

Without scientists studying and publishing data on shark migration patterns and population dynamics, conservation policy would be crippled, but commercial fishing would still be doing just fine.

*Yes, I am aware that some countries are Shark Sanctuaries where no commercial fishing for sharks is allowed. If fishing is prohibited in an area, it’s unclear what negative impacts the publication of tracking data could have. However, most countries are not Shark Sanctuaries, and many areas, including international waters, will never be. If your goal is “no one in the world ever fishing for sharks anywhere” rather than protecting particularly threatened species and opposing unsustainable overfishing, you’re going to be disappointed.

For more information on the applications of satellite tags to shark research, please see our lab’s review paper on the subject.

Medusa: Scientists document rarely seen deepwater sharks using baited video cameras

The deep sea is one of the largest, least explored, and most unique ecosystems on the planet.  An enormous variety of weird and wonderful creatures make the deep sea their home, including many species of sharks. A new project, headed up by our friends at the Cape Eleuthera Institute, hopes to learn more about these sharks.

According to Edd Brooks, CEI’s shark research and conservation program manager,

“About half of all known species of sharks make this cold, dark high pressure environment their home, and new deep water species are being described all the time. The issue we are currently facing is that basic information about the taxonomy, biology and ecology of these animals is virtually non-existent, yet they are already being harvested by commercial fisheries. The little we do know about deep water species is worrying, in that they are thought to be more sensitive to fishing pressure than all other fish – and look what we have managed to do their more robust shallow water cousins already. The worry is that in some areas, we are already be losing species before they can be described taxonomically.”

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Ethical Debate: Killing sharks for science?

While attending last year’s American Elasmobranch Society conference, I was asked to fill out a survey concerning my views on lethal shark research. My response, along with those of many other participants, has now been analyzed and written up into a new essay in the Journal of Conservation Biology. Michelle Heupel and Colin Simpendorfer argue that lethal sampling of some individual sharks is sometimes necessary in order to get the data needed to protect those animals’ entire species. However, attitudes about conservation in general and sharks specifically are changing, and many (including these authors) feel that this is starting to affect marine biology as a science.



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