Baiting up to count the world's sharks

09 July 2015 - 02:26 By AFP

Using bait attached to underwater cameras at 400 reefs worldwide, scientists are embarking on their first-ever attempt to count the world's sharks, researchers said. The programme, called Global FinPrint, aims to provide a clear picture by 2018 of where shark populations are healthy and where they are struggling, and how sharks affect the health of coral reefs.Marine biologist Mike Heithaus, a leading shark researcher from Florida International University, said: "People may not realise it, but people need sharks."Sharks play a key role in the food chain by eating turtles and sea cows and keeping down populations that might otherwise overgraze on sea grass, which is an important habitat for smaller fish and shrimp that people consume, he said.But as many as 100 million sharks are taken from the oceans every year for their fins and meat, Heithaus said.Microsoft co-founder Paul G Allen's company Vulcan, has invested $4-million (about R50-million) into the initiative.The effort will vastly increase the amount of cameras in place worldwide, particularly in areas where little is known about shark populations, such as the Indo-Pacific, tropical western Atlantic, and southern and eastern Africa and Indian Ocean islands, said Heithaus."This project won't give us necessarily an absolute number but it will give us a relative idea of how many sharks are in different areas," he said.The international team of researchers is being led by Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University in New York.

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