Shark Tagging Program Reveals Great White Movements Off Western Australia

Western Australia’s new Fisheries Minister has vowed to move forward with groundbreaking research into the movement of great white sharks off the state’s coastline despite the fact that the program’s budget was cut last year.

The results of the seven-year-long study were recently released, according to the ABC, revealing that white sharks frequent the region around Perth in the spring and summer of each year. Conducted in concert with CSIRO and researchers from South Australia, the project saw some 223 great white sharks outfitted with transmitters. These animals could then be detected by both data-logging receivers and satellite-linked global receivers situated off the coast. According to reports, 309 of the data-logging receivers were installed between Ningaloo and Esperance, while 25 satellite-linked receivers were also funded by the state government.

The data collected by these devices showed that the movements of great white sharks were highly random, indicating that it would be extremely difficult to predict when they were likely to encounter humans. As Science Network Western Australia points out, the white sharks tend to spend their time cruising up and down the coastline. Only a few of the tagged white sharks ventured close to shore, remaining there for just a few hours or, in some cases, a few days. In the springtime, the data revealed that the white sharks frequented not only the region around Perth but also Cockburn Sound and Garden Island, coinciding with spawning trends for prey fish.

In addition to the great whites, 46 bronze whaler sharks and 21 tiger sharks were also tagged and repeatedly detected by receivers. The bronze whalers were recorded a staggering 150,000 times, while the tiger sharks were picked up just 7,000 times during the course of the study. All in all, the receivers detected tagged sharks of one species or another nearly 180,000 times.

While the program has been administered and funded by the Department of Fisheries, its budget was cut last year. Since then, it has operated under general Fisheries funding. Minister Joe Francis has affirmed that the state government will continue forward with the research and build upon it, pointing out that the detection network has already been paid for. The research project has already cost a total of $3 million, according to Francis, who said that he would like to see more sharks tagged in the future so that the maximum scientific and public safety benefits could be extracted from the state’s investment.

“I think it’s fantastic and anything that we can do to help protect the public and those who use our beaches in Western Australia and around the country is a really positive thing.”

While the research is indeed groundbreaking, Western Australia is hardly the only place that scientists are tagging great white sharks with an eye toward gaining a better understanding of the species. As the Inquisitr has previously reported, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy is currently in the midst of a five-year-long population study, which is being conducted off Cape Cod. The region has developed into a gathering point for white sharks in the Northern Atlantic over the last decade, driven partially by conservation efforts and the recovery of a local seal colony.

Representatives of Western Australia’s Greens and Labor parties also expressed their approval of the research, claiming that it showed the weaknesses inherent in the state government’s much-criticized drum line policy. Upper House Greens MP Lynn MacLaren noted that the party was concerned when funding for the program was cut, adding that they believe the research “needs to be properly resourced.” She also pointed out that her party plans to push for increased funding for studying great white sharks in the current budget.

[Image via Grant Peters | Flickr | Cropped and Resized | CC BY 2.0]