If you have been watching Discovery Channel's Shark Week, then you may have have picked up on the conservation angle the documentarians are taking this year. The Discovery Channel team appears to be on a quest to change people's perceptions of sharks from being blood hungry villains — as seen in Jaws — to interesting creatures we still have a lot to learn about.

And while this may be one way to help educate and hence protect the marine animals, an international team of scientists are taking a hands-on approach by kicking off the largest shark census in an attempt to further protect the predators.

Species of sharks continue to vanish from the deep blue under the threat of extinction, so the researchers are taking part in a three-year multi-institutional project named Global FinPrint where they are deploying underwater video equipment to catch the sharks on camera to study them in their natural habitats.

Funded by Paul G. Allen, Microsoft co-founder, the scientists will focus efforts in reef regions where there are gaps in data, areas that include over 400 reefs in the Indo-Pacific, tropic western Atlantic, and southern and eastern Africa and Indian Ocean islands.

"Recent estimates suggest around 100 million sharks are taken from the oceans every year for their fins and meat," one of the team researchers Mike Heithaus, a marine biologist at Florida International University, told Phys.org. "This is resulting in severe population declines for some species, and many of the species that are in trouble live in coastal habitats like coral reefs."

And declining shark populations is not only a threat for species extinction, but it also could result in negative effects on their ecosystems.

Kicking off this summer, Global FinPrint will allow researchers to find information on sharks' habitat, species density, and diversity trends. The scientists will use baited remote underwater video (BRUV) to survey sharks, rays, and other types of coral reef marine life in order to analyze the environmental factors and human effects that threaten these ecosystems.

The BRUV setup includes placing a camera on the sea floor with a small bait cage placed in front. The predators, after smelling the bait, arrive within 80 minutes, giving researchers the ability to see how many sharks there are in a specific hot spot.  

The footage will then be added to existing BRUV data to form the largest-ever and most comprehensive survey and analysis program of the world's populations of reef sharks and rays in their natural environment. The data can then be inserted on a database developed by Vulcan's technology development team which can be accessed by other researchers, governments, and policymakers in the summer of 2018 so that they can start conservation efforts in the areas that need protecting the most.

Check out Global FinPrint's footage below.

Via: Phys.org


Photo: Greg Grimes | Flickr


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