SOS Shark Repellent Research Expedition - Live Blog 2014
Shark Repellent Research
Expedition - Live Blog 2014
Article by Support Our Sharks (08-20 January 2014)

Shark Research Expedition 2014

Shark mitigation has become a highly debated topic in Western Australia (WA) in light of the controversial culling policy adopted by the WA Government.  As a result, you rarely hear about all the great research being conducted by WA scientists to better understand sharks.  Therefore, we have decided to give you exclusive behind-the-scenes access to our latest research expedition in WA, with the UWA Neuroecology Group, to test a range of cutting-edge shark repellents.

Come back daily between the 8th and 20th of January 2014 to see blog posts directly from the field, by members of our shark team, with exclusive updates on our research progress.

Be sure to Like the Support Our Sharks Facebook page for more information.

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Day 13 - The Last Word From A Volunteer's Perspective

Volunteer perspective

Blog post by Volunteer Denisse Fierro (20 January 2014)

When I was given the opportunity to join a group of scientists from the UWA Neuroecology Group  to test shark deterrents, there was no way I was going to miss it.  After almost a month of waiting and a very long drive, we arrived at our destination.  

I spent most of the time with the shore team, testing different deterrents at beaches along the WA coast. Some of the footage that we managed to get was absolutely brilliant.  We did not only manage to see sharks of a great range of sizes, but we also saw a great variety of fishes, as well as rays, turtles and the odd dolphin. It may sound like an easy job, but do not be fooled by the beach setting.  There was a lot of hard work involved in setting up camp, finding a suitable location for the cameras, attracting the sharks, finding solutions to unforeseen problems, and of course monitoring the cameras for any shark movement.  The days were long, very hot at times, and very tiring indeed.  But despite the hard work, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had, because I had the opportunity to not only get involved in shark research, which is something I am passionate about, but I was also able to meet and work with the scientists that carry out this research.

I have learned a lot from this experience, and now know that regardless of how much time you spend planning your trip (which in this case was quite a few months), things are bound to go wrong.  You need to be able to keep a cool head under pressure and be flexible in your thinking so that you can overcome those obstacles.  It was impressive to see how a difficult situation was turned around by everyone putting their heads together to come up with a solution.  Two heads are definitely better than one in these cases.

Lastly, I would like to thank the entire team of researchers for being very friendly and open about sharing their knowledge, and of course, for including me in this amazing trip.  I have to say that they have all inspired me to keep working hard towards my goal to become a marine scientist, specialising in sharks.  And who knows, maybe in a few years, I will be part of this same team in charge of my very own research project.

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 12 - Sharks, Camera, Action!

Light deterrents

Blog post by PhD Candidate Laura Ryan (19 January 2014)

The weather really picked up for our last day of field work. The wind had dropped a little from the last few days, the sun was shining and water visibility had improved dramatically. Today we tested our light deterrent from the shore using a LIVE rig set up. This consisted of an intense strobe light that was triggered when a shark approached the rig.

Strobe lights have been found to deter a range of other animals but to date no record of testing on sharks has been documented. Strobes have been used to prevent lions from encroaching on human territory as well as preventing bony fish from entering power station cooling intakes. Most people have experienced the sensation of a light globe just before it dies when it creates a fast flicker or a strobe at a night club. It is possible that the flickering of light may also deter sharks because of the heightened level of visual stimulation. We have had multiple interactions from this trip that will provide some interesting insights on the use of strobe lights as a shark deterrent and we look forward to publishing our results.

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 11 - Shark Brains

Shark Brains

Blog post by A/Professor Kara Yopak (18 January 2014)

Another amazing day in the field! Whether we have to deal with tricky weather, poor visibility, or mysterious sharks (who I’m certain are hiding just outside our camera range), it’s incredible to interact with these animals and have the opportunity to see even a small piece of the underwater world they call home.  

Much of my personal research relates to the brain of sharks and their relatives, which is mostly performed in a laboratory, but would be incomplete without a true understanding of where these animals live and the number of intriguing and complex behaviors they engage in. Although sharks were previously thought to have relatively simple brains, work by myself and other members of our group has shown that sharks and other cartilaginous fishes have a battery of highly developed sensory systems and relatively large brains that are comparable to birds and mammals. Interestingly, the size of various sensory brain regions reflects a shark’s ecology and can often provide clues to the senses they likely specialize in to be most successful in their environment.

In terms of a shark repellant, this suggests that the relative importance of the different senses varies between shark species. In other words, by looking at the brain, we can predict if an animal is more visual or olfactory, is a lateral line specialist or likely uses electroreception more in localizing prey, or is more of a sensory generalist. What this suggests to our team is that a multisensory approach is expected to be the most effective when developing repellants and that a deterrent that may work for one species may not work for another. For this reason, our deterrent tests are targeting a variety of senses at a range of thresholds. Stay tuned as our final day approaches and we head back to the lab to analyze the hundreds of hours of amazing footage we’ve collected.

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 10 - What Kind of Music Do Sharks Like...and Hate?

Do sharks like music?

Blog post by PhD Candidate Lucille Chapuis (17 January 2014)

Let’s stop speaking for a moment and listen to the sounds around us… The underwater environment is full of a variety of sounds and acoustic cues for all of its inhabitants, including sharks. Sharks are known to be sensitive to low frequency sounds from about 20 Hz to 4000 Hz. In contrast, humans can hear sounds up to 20,000 Hz (and some dolphins up to 150,000 Hz!). A shark’s hearing system is thus very specialised and well adapted to low frequencies and yet almost nothing is known about it.

Today, we put this challenging mystery to the test by arming our stereo camera rigs with underwater speakers to present sharks with a mix of sounds with different frequencies, alternating intensities and varying tempos.  Will the sharks be attracted, deterred or pay no attention?  

It was especially thrilling to deploy the rigs from the boat, as you are never sure about what will turn up and what the reaction may be.  When you retrieve a rig, about 90 minutes after it was deployed, your first thought is for your equipment. Is it still attached? Still working? Any evidence of an interaction? You don’t have any clue what may have happened and how the experiment has been going underwater. It is only at the end of the day, when you come back to the base camp, that you can upload the videos onto the computer and allow yourself to deep dive into the sharks’ underwater world and try to unfold the mysteries. After a review of the videos collected from the day, I might be able to imagine whether sharks like drum ‘n’ base mixes or would prefer an act of a Verdi opera…to be continued!

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 9 - The Weather Strikes Again!

Shore based work again!

Blog post by Dr. Ryan Kempster (16 January 2014)

Another day of high winds and so, unfortunately, we couldn’t get the boat out again.  Instead, we spent the day on shore with the film crew to run the live camera rigs, which allowed us to monitor sharks in real time and trigger repellents as they approached. We have had so many great interactions, but we will only know the final results when we analyse all the video footage. As soon as we return to the lab, we will be locking ourselves away for a few months to get through the hundreds of hours of footage that we have collected on this trip. It’s a time-consuming process, but the results make it all worth it. In fact, you can check out some of the video footage from our previous field trip right here. Only two more days to go; hopefully the weather will improve and we can get back out on the boat to find some more big sharks!

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 8 - The Arrival of the Documentary Team

Documentary Crew Join the Team

Blog post by Prof. Shaun Collin (15 January 2014)

Today we were joined by a professional film crew from Windfall Films (in the UK), lead by Presenter Mark Evans, who has fronted many exciting international documentaries including Great White Shark (from the Series Inside Nature’s Giants). Windfall Films will join us for a few days in the field and then come back to our Neuroecology laboratory, within the School of Animal Biology at The University of Western Australia in order for us to show the world how we are using basic knowledge of the sensory systems of sharks to develop robust deterrents. Their team of three managed to film our shore-based activities, which saw us deploy two live rigs testing the responses of sharks to lights and bubbles. Unfortunately, the conditions were quite tough with high temperatures, gusty winds and low visibility testing the grit of all of our research team members. Our ocean-based activities have been postponed due to high winds but we hope that we will soon be able to resume this crucial part of our testing regime (on the larger sharks) tomorrow. Thus far, the team has worked extremely well together and we all look forward to the remaining few days we have left.

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 7 - The House Team

GoPro Hero 3 Cameras

Blog post by M.Sc. Student Channing Egeberg (14 January 2014)

Today I was on the house team, meaning I got to enter the all-important data into the computers and review the video files from the past few days!  I admit it doesn’t sound like the most exciting job, but there is something exciting about discovering what species of sharks we caught on film and how they interacted with the rigs!  It also came as a bit of a welcome break after 3 days in a row on the hot exposed beach.  The downside is that it can be tough to keep track of all the cameras, batteries, memory cards, data sheets, etc. and get them all copied, charged, and ready for the next day.  So far, we have recorded over 300 hours of footage that will all need to be analyzed in great detail over the next few months, and we are only halfway through the trip.

In addition, today I had the job of picking out the most exciting and interesting clips from our videos so far to show to the film crew that has just arrived to document our research for their upcoming documentary.  The film crew will be accompanying us into the field tomorrow, so we will be sure to update you on how it all goes… Smile for the cameras! 

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 6 - Electric Sharks

Team Meeting

Blog post by Dr. Ryan Kempster (13 January 2014)

Today the team was out on the boat testing electric repellents, as it is thought that strong electric fields may overstimulate the highly sensitive electroreceptors in the snout of sharks and thus cause them to swim away. In the oceans, electric fields may be produced by both biological and geological sources, and it is thought that sharks make use of these signals to navigate and locate prey. In fact, they can even use electric fields to detect predators, hence why electric repellents may be a viable option to repel sharks. If sharks are naturally repelled by the electric fields of their predators, then it would seem logical that an artificial version of those electric fields would also repel them.

Working from the boat can be challenging, as space is very limited and the testing rigs take up much of the room available. For every electric repellent we are testing, we also deploy a control rig, which includes an unpowered repellent. This is to ensure that it is not the appearance of the repellent that is deterring the sharks, as electric repellents come in many different forms. Today alone, we had interactions with hammerheads, tiger sharks and bronze whaler sharks.  It has been a fantastic day on the water with beautiful conditions.  Tomorrow, however, is not looking good and so we may have to focus our efforts from the shore if the weather deteriorates too much.

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 5 - It's All About the Bubbles

Black tip reef shark

Blog post by Dr. Ryan Kempster (12 January 2014)

Today was all about bubbles, and by that I don’t mean we spent the day relaxing in a Jacuzzi, but rather we were testing the concept that sharks may be repelled by bubbles.  This may sound odd, but bubbles may be an effective way of deterring sharks. Not only do they provide a visual cue, but they also make a lot of noise and, additionally, sharks can detect the pressure changes caused by the water displacement through their mechanoreceptors.

Both the shore team and boat team trialled bubble repellents today and had interactions with bronze whaler sharks, black tip reef sharks and shovelnose rays. Even after only three days of testing we have built up a fantastic data set of a range of repellents in action. I can’t wait to get into the analysis to see what the results will show.

Tomorrow we will be testing a series of electric and visual repellents.

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 4 - Chemical Repellents

Chemical Testing

Blog post by Dr. Ryan Kempster (11 January 2014)

Today I had the pleasure of joining our shore team to investigate the effectiveness of chemical shark deterrents. Chemical deterrents have been in use since WWII, but when scientifically tested, most have been found to be ineffective at deterring sharks. However, some early testing revealed that the smell of rotten shark flesh appeared to be effective, presumably because the smell of rotten shark to a live shark may indicate danger and so the natural response is to flee. The often conflicting and disappointing results from chemical repellent research later led to the research being abandoned. Therefore, we thought we would pick up the baton and see if we can find an effective chemical repellent solution.

Using a live stereo camera rig, we are able to monitor sharks as they approach a bait attractant, at which point we can instantly pump in a natural chemical repellent to the area to determine if the sharks are deterred from feeding.  All videos are recorded in stereo (paired cameras) to allow accurate measurements to be taken, which provides a much more robust data set for later analysis.

Working from the shore has the advantage of a stable platform to work from (no issues with seasickness), but the disadvantage of exposure to the elements.  With >45C temperatures, extreme humidity, and more flies than I care to think about, it can be a challenging place to work. Nevertheless, we persevere and the results make it all worthwhile. In fact, today alone, we had interactions with grey reef sharks, black tip reef sharks, and shovelnose rays.

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 3 - The Testing Begins

Beach Team

Blog post by Associate Professor Nathan Hart (10 January 2014)

Day 3 of the field trip has seen hot (>45C) and windy conditions once again.  After a lot of preparatory work yesterday, today was the first day of actually testing the repellents.  Two different teams were deployed, one based on the beach to study interactions with smaller/juvenile sharks and another on the boat to try and study interactions with larger/adult sharks. Among the repellent technologies tested today were two different electronic devices (from the boat) and bubble curtains (from the shore). Working from the boat, we deploy a total of 4 individual rigs at any one time: we test two different repellents and each repellent test rig has its own control rig (where the repellent is absent or switched off).  Each ‘drop’ lasts around 90mins and this is repeated up to 4 times a day depending on weather conditions.  Working from the beach we take a different approach where a continuous live video feed is monitored for the arrival of sharks on the bait, at which point the repellent is triggered and the response of the shark recorded.

Now the teams are back from the field, we begin the somewhat lengthy process of downloading all the video footage from the day (approximately 40-50 individual SD cards with 12GB of video files on each card), recharging the camera batteries and cleaning and preparing the rigs for deployment tomorrow. Although we are just starting to analyse the video footage, we have already seen some sharks interacting with the rigs, including hammerheads, grey reef and black tip reef sharks. This is a promising start to the trip and it is gratifying to see the testing rigs working as they should, after all the effort that has gone into building and perfecting the designs.

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 2 - Recon

Boat Recon

Blog post by Dr. Ryan Kempster (09 January 2014)

Our first day out on the water and what a beautiful day it is: the water is calm, clear and full of sharks…we hope! Today, I was joined by W/Prof. Shaun Collin, A/Prof. Nathan Hart and Safety Officer Caroline Kerr to go and check out some proposed sites for the deployment of our repellents. Our aim is to have a team of 3-4 people work out in deep water from the boat to target large sharks and also a shore-based team to target juvenile sharks in the shallows. Both teams will be equipped with modified stereo camera rigs that will record all the action remotely. After deployment, the rigs will be retrieved and the footage analysed to determine the effectiveness of the different repellents attached to the rigs.  Tomorrow is our first official day of testing, so we hope we can give you some good news very soon.

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

Day 1 - Road Trip  

Day 1 in the field

Blog post by Dr. Ryan Kempster (08 January 2014)

We have finally arrived at our testing location after many hours of driving and carefully avoiding a number of kangaroos along the way. We are all extremely tired and ready to get a good night sleep in preparation for when the real work starts tomorrow. But before everyone headed off to bed I managed to grab a quick photo of the team. We have a mixed bunch, including shark brain specialists, marine neuroecologists, PhD students, MSc students and volunteers. Tomorrow, we will visit our research sites and prepare all the equipment for deployment. I hope to give you some more information then on what types of repellents we will be testing, but for now I must say goodnight.

(Photo: Left to right - A/Prof. Nathan Hart, Dr. Kara Yopak, Jack Collin, Denisse Fierro, Geordie Collin, Tom Collin, Maree Bekkers, Caroline Kerr, Lucille Chapuis, Channing Egeberg, Carl Schmidt, W/Prof. Shaun Collin, Laura Ryan, Dr. Ryan Kempster)

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

The Prep

The Preperation  

Blog post by Dr. Ryan Kempster (07 January 2014)

I thought I would start off the trip's blog by letting you in on the not-so-glamorous side of shark research: The Prep. Every 2 week research trip that we conduct can take up to 6 months of planning.  This is because, as well as designing good scientific experiments with well thought out methodologies, we also have to build all of our own equipment. Even more importantly, we have to get all the necessary permits and approvals to be allowed to conduct the work. The above photo was taken this afternoon as we began packing the trailers to leave in the early hours of tomorrow morning.  Over the next 2 weeks, we hope to introduce you to the different types of equipment we will be using during the course of this research expedition as well as our awesome team members that make it all possible.

Come back every day for the latest blog updates live from the field with exclusive insights into how we are testing and developing new shark repellent technologies to keep you safe in the water.

For more information on our research group, check out the UWA Neuroecology Group website. If you would like to contribute to this research and ensure a safe outcome for both people and sharks in WA and around the world, you can make a tax-deductable donation via the UWA Online Giving page (Gift type = Research Initiative - Shark Conservation and Deterrents).

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