Earlier this week I had the great privilege of attending the 3rd Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium, which was held from 7-9 September at the Blue Horizon Estate above Simon’s Town. I am not a shark scientist (these days I am probably best described as a lapsed mathematician) but have an interest in the subject so I went to listen. If I had to provide some bite-sized takeaways from the first day of the symposium, jotted down without applying any of the science communication principles I learned at the workshop yesterday, it would be these:
- Shark mitigation – avoiding negative interactions between humans and sharks – is HARD and a lot of smart people are working on the problem.
- The City of Cape Town is a world leader in shark mitigation efforts, along with Shark Spotters. They really think about the problem, and care about both people and sharks.
- If you are not blessed with high coastal terrain and surface-swimming sharks (which would permit a shark spotting program like Cape Town’s one), other shark mitigation measures are in the pipeline… From orca-patterned surfboards (and wetsuits?) to shark exclusion nets to large-scale electrical repellent cables.
- The KZN Sharks Board catches a lot of sharks, rays and other animals in their gill nets and drum lines, and this is upsetting and far from ideal. But they facilitate an incredible amount of scientific study, too – their catches do not go to waste.
- The KZN Sharks Board is committed to finding measures other than gill nets and drum lines to keep bathers safe, and they are actively working on the problem (refer to the electrical shark repellent cable I mentioned above).
- Sometimes scientific research doesn’t look the way you expect or imagine. Ruth Leeney of Protect Africa’s Sawfishes spent months on the ground interviewing Mozambican villagers in the far north of the country to assess the population status of sawfish in Mozambique. She collected data that no one else could have obtained by other means!
- Smaller, less charismatic sharks, like catsharks, need more love. There are also whole families of sharks that divers don’t see (such as dogfish) and hence aren’t really aware of. They are caught prolifically as by-catch and not much is known about them. But some smart people are working on this!
- There are motivated, talented scientists working hard in South African government departments to protect our marine resources and making recommendations to manage them sustainably. (There’s also many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip, but they are trying very hard.)
- Technology – be it cameras, software, or tags – is enabling great leaps in our understanding of what’s out there, which will enable us to protect and conserve things better.
- Ocean acidification as a result of climate change could affect sharks directly, by actually wearing away their denticles (tooth-like structures on their skin). Denticles protect sharks and help them to swim faster.
I was tweeting from the symposium twitter account, and along with some of the other attendees we produced a fairly comprehensive summary of each talk, along with some visual media. Here’s a link to the day one compendium on Storify, and it is embedded below: