Sharks and rays

Our shark and ray research focusses on their movements through tracking and global population surveys such as those through through Global FinPrint

Sharks and rays live in all of the world’s oceans but are most diverse and abundant in shallow tropical regions. There are about 500 species of sharks and 600 species of rays globally. New species continue to be discovered. Australia is home to over 300 shark and ray species and over half of these are found nowhere else on the planet.

Globally, shark and ray numbers are declining from threats such as overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and climate change.

Fishing is the single greatest threat to shark and ray populations. It is possible to sustainably fish sharks if well regulated, however examples of overfishing can be found around the world.

Our research

The movements of a tiger shark over a two year period around Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef. This shark was fitted with an acoustic tag and her movements were recorded by a number of listen stations around the reef.

AIMS research includes exploring shark and ray movement patterns to determine how far individual animals move and where they travel to. This information can be used to help improve management in Australia by monitoring how effective management and conservation efforts are.

Researchers can follow sharks from space. Satellite tags are battery-operated devices attached to the fin of an animal. When the tag is at the ocean’s surface, it sends information about the animal’s location to a satellite. This information is then received by the researcher in near real-time.

We also track sharks and rays using underwater signals from acoustic tags. These small devices are attached to an animal and transmit a regular unique signal. This signal is detected by a network of underwater listening stations that record information about the animals as they pass by.

A BRUVS-eye view on a reef near Townsville, Great Barrier Reef. As sharks gather around a bag filled with bait, (at the end of the orange pole) a video records the action. Researchers watch the vision to better understand the shark and ray poulations of a given area. Image: Global FinPrint and Vulcan Inc.

AIMS uses underwater cameras with attached bait (BRUVS) to survey shark populations. This method allows us to see where different species of shark and ray are and count how many are present.

Our researchers are key contributors to Global FinPrint, the world’s largest reef shark and ray survey. Shark biologists from around the world are working together to explore and understand how sharks influence coral reefs and how humans impact different species.

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