Tweeting sharks forestall 'Jaws'-like doom

Tagged sharks in the seas of Western Australia have taken to tweeting their whereabouts. But swimmers shouldn't toss their caution just because the animals have gotten into social networking.

Surf Life Saving WA even tweets pictures of sharks as they're spotted. Surf Life Saving WA

Aquaphobes still traumatized by "Jaws" can now breathe a little easier.

Government researchers from Western Australia have tagged 338 sharks with acoustic transmitters on their bellies. These tagged sharks set off a computer alert when they're about half a mile from the beach, which generates an automatic tweet on the Surf Life Saving Western Australia Twitter stream. Tweets include size, breed, and approximate location.

Despite the program's impressive scale, marine biologist Kim Holland warns that swimmers shouldn't throw caution to the seas just because sharks have gone high tech and gotten into social networking.

"It can, in fact, provide a false sense of security -- that is, if there is no tweet, then there is no danger -- and that simply is not a reasonable interpretation," she tells Southern California radio station KPCC.

The reverse isn't true either, she says. "Just because there's a shark nearby doesn't mean to say that there's any danger. In Hawaii, tiger sharks are all around our coastlines all the time, and yet we have very, very few attacks."

The program is an expansion of the Australian government's ongoing efforts to keep its beaches safe, while helping scientists learn more about shark movements in Western Australia, which has witnessed six fatal attacks in the last two years.

It's also a response to the November death of surfer Chris Boyd, who died following an attack in Western Australia by a shark believed to be a great white. The tragedy prompted the government to enact more aggressive methods to curb shark attacks, such as deploying vessels with professional fishermen to bait and kill any large shark spotted about half a mile from the beach. This measure has more than 100 scientists up in arms and advocating for adoption of non-lethal measures to protect beachgoers.

 

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