Grey nurse shark monitoring project launched in Australia

A new marine project was launched in Queensland, Australia today, the first of its kind to collect and collate results on the population and behaviours of the endangered Grey Nurse Shark (GNS).

Grey Nurse Shark Watch is a community based photographic identification and monitoring project that encourages divers and fishers to submit photographs to help gather information on GNS numbers, movements and distribution. Each individual shark features unique spot patterns, making photographic identification an ideal way to differentiate between individuals. Photographs submitted by volunteers will contribute to a national database on the grey nurse shark, which will be made available to stakeholders, researchers and managers.

The east Australian population of the grey nurse shark is listed as Critically Endangered under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Hunted almost to the point of extinction in the 1950s and 1960s, it is estimated the Australian east coast population plummeted to less than 1,000 individuals. But this ferocious-looking species, growing to just over three metres in length, is no man-eater. They are timid and gentle fish eating giants.

Despite many years of research and management little is known about this iconic species and we urgently need to monitor their recovery and ensure key areas are protected for their survival.

Using GIS (Geographic Information System), 200 sites sharing similar parameters and habitat to known aggregation sites (where populations gather to feed, mate, gestate and pup) have been identified and prioritised. Wolf Rock currently supports half of the pregnant female population and is the only aggregation site known where females gestate before returning to New South Wales to pup. Locating and protecting aggregation sites is pivotal to the survival of the species. What is currently unknown, and of critical importance, is where the other pregnant females aggregate – a gap it is hoped this project will fill.

Over the next nine months, multiple teams will be deployed to potential aggregation sites to conduct habitat analysis using side-scan sonar and remote operated video whilst checking for sharks with baited underwater video. Female sharks tagged with special acoustic tags in southern Queensland in November 2011 will then be tracked using underwater ‘listening stations’ installed at potential sites.

The GNS Watch database is hosted by Reef Check Australia and the project has been enabled through the collaboration of Fauna & Flora International, Department of Environment & Resource Management, Burnett Mary Regional Group and The University of Queensland, with the financial contribution of Australian Capital Equity and support from Australia Zoo.

More information can be accessed through Reef Check Australia.