Saving Sharks With Data

7/7/2015 : Raechel Waters

Saving Sharks With Data

7/7/2015 : Raechel Waters

As millions of people across the world tune into their televisions to watch Discovery’s highly anticipated “Shark Week,” the world’s top shark researchers are embarking on the largest data-collection and analysis of sharks ever – all in an effort to help safeguard this important species.

“Shark Week” demonstrates for many viewers the fascinating and fierce prowess of the ocean’s largest fish. Yet as powerful as these creatures may seem, they are in need of our protection. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that one quarter of all shark and ray species are currently threatened with extinction. These species play a vital role in the health of our oceans, yet their existence remains threatened by human overexploitation.

We know the situation is serious, but the lack of comprehensive and accurate data is hindering conservation efforts to restore threatened populations. That’s why Paul Allen is supporting a new shark data initiative called Global FinPrint. The Global FinPrint initiative will be the largest and most comprehensive data-collection and analysis of the world’s shark and ray populations to date: establishing previously unknown baselines and providing critical information that can inform smart conservation policy.

A multi-institutional team of global shark experts will manage the program, collecting and analyzing data from baited remote underwater video (BRUV) surveys of coral reef ecosystems around the world. By the end of the project, the team will have surveyed sharks, rays and skates from more than 400 coral reefs.

As part of Paul Allen and Vulcan’s ongoing commitment to providing open-source tools that can inform research and drive action, all of the data collected will be made openly available via an online database created by Vulcan’s technology development team.

Researchers, NGOs, policy makers, international governments and others will be able use this data to inform conservation management plans and raise awareness of the ecological importance of sharks as apex predators – animals that play a “keystone” role in the food-chain, making them especially important to ecosystem health and preservation.

Leveraging data and technology to understand demographic and geographic trends of entire species is the first step in planning how to protect them. This same model has been part of our work in protecting everything from elephants to fish – we can’t manage what we haven’t measured. In supporting the Great Elephant Census, the largest pan-African aerial elephant survey in over 40 years, Paul Allen has helped researchers identify of new herd populations and provide increased understanding of threats to elephant survival. And with support of Sea Around Us – a research initiative to collect 15 years of fisheries data – Vulcan is helping to identify and address unsustainable fishing trends.

While sharks maintain an important part in our culture through media and television programs such as “Shark Week,” it’s important not to forget the important role they play on our planet. Sharks are not only fascinating, but are a critical component of a healthy environment. To lose them is to potentially lose whole oceanic habitats as we know them. There is much to be done in the way of research and developing informed policy to protect our oceans and the species in that live in them.

Visit the Global FinPrint website if you’d like to learn more about the program, or follow the progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 -- Raechel Waters is Senior Program Officer for ocean health at Vulcan. 



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