Underwater rodeo tracks shark energy
James Cook University scientists say tourists’ feeding of sharks entices the animals to expend valuable energy during a time when they are normally resting.
A new study, led by JCU’s Dr Adam Barnett, investigated the activity patterns and energy use of whitetip reef sharks at Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea.
The team conducted an underwater rodeo – roping sharks by the tail as they approached baited cages. A small computer resembling a Fitbit was then attached to the sharks’ tails to allow researchers to measure their activity patterns.
The data showed tourism-based shark feeding activities causing an increase in the daily energy expenditure of whitetip reef sharks by elevating activity levels during the day when they normally rest.
Dr Barnett said shark tourism is a growing global phenomenon. “If conducted responsibly, it can have economic benefits and contribute to conservation. Studies to date have shown that feeding or attracting sharks can cause behavioural changes. Yet, there is still little understanding if the behavioural changes can have consequences for the sharks’ health and fitness.”
Co-investigator Richard Fitzpatrick said tourism operators limit the amount of feeding of sharks at Osprey Reef, so the effects there should be minimal, and outweighed by the benefits.
“Current feeding rates probably have minor consequences, but increasing the frequency of feeding events could have significant consequences to health and fitness,” he said.
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Link to research paper
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