Four great white sharks have been caught and tagged off the coast of New South Wales, seemingly proving the efficacy of newly developed “smart” drum line technology.
The sharks were caught and tagged off Evans Head on Wednesday and Thursday according to the ABC, in what is being called the first successful implementation of smart drum line technology in the Australian state. Helicopters first spotted the sharks, prompting scientists with the Department of Primary Industries to deploy the unique lines in order to catch them.
— Jonathan Coghill (@jonacoghill) October 21, 2015
Drum lines are commonly utilized capture gear, typically employed in efforts to passively catch large sharks like great whites. As WA Today noted, drum lines were deployed earlier this week off Falcon Beach in Western Australia, after a 29-year-old surfer was attacked by what was believed to be a white shark. Ben Gerring lost his right leg in the attack and is still in critical condition, yet officials utilized drum lines last Wednesday (a day after the attack) and successfully caught and killed a large great white shark. Critics have pointed out, however, that there is no assurance that the shark killed was the one responsible for the attack.
— Sam Buckingham-Jones (@SamEBJones) August 27, 2015
Smart drum lines operate somewhat differently from their traditional counterparts. Technologically more advanced, they signal researchers with an SMS alert whenever a shark is hooked, thus allowing the scientists to come to the animal’s aid before it perishes on the line. The technology was first employed in 2015 when a trial program was announced, and scientists have been working to refine the devices ever since, particularly for use in open water. Aside from Australia, smart drum lines have also been utilized off the French Island of Reunion, which boasts one of the highest rates of shark attacks anywhere in the world, as the Inquisitr previously noted.
Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair pointed to the successful deployment of the drum lines as a “watershed moment” for the technology, noting the number of great whites that had been documented in the trial.
“To catch four sharks in two days shows this has been a successful trial and something we’ll continue to refine.”
— newsaiya (@hhaiya50) July 2, 2015
The four white sharks that were caught by researchers were evenly divided by gender, with two males and two females taking the bait. The female sharks measured 2.35 meters and 2.8 meters (the biggest of the four), while the male great whites measured 2.65 meters and 2.45 meters. All four great white sharks were fitted with the same array of transmitters, both acoustic and GPS, which allow researchers to track their movements. Already, the sharks have moved off the coast and into waters where they can be closely monitored by an already extant program.
Minister Blair related that researchers had previously been trialing the smart drum lines in rivers and closed waters, focusing on attempts to catch bull sharks as they refined the technology. Their success at these trials convinced them they could utilize the drum lines in open ocean conditions, particularly in areas that white sharks are known to frequent.
Drum lines, and particularly the serious threat policy that triggers their use in Western Australia, have proven to be highly controversial in recent years both on the local and international level. Advocates point to their use as a deterrent for sharks, most notably near populated areas, while critics say that the drum lines are indiscriminate and too often fatal to the animal.
Western Australia effectively ended its baited drum line policy in 2014 amid recommendations against extending it from the state’s environmental watchdog agency. Under the serious threat policy, however, officials are still allowed to deploy them for any shark in excess of three meters (most often a great white) that poses a perceived danger to public safety.