Arizona State University Professor Develops Innovative Device to Save Sharks

Arizona State University Professor Develops Innovative Device to Save Sharks

Table of Content

Sharks are often feared and misunderstood creatures, but the reality is that humans pose a greater threat to them than they do to us. 

According to Defenders of Wildlife, 75% of shark species are in danger of disappearing forever, and an estimated 73 million sharks are slaughtered every year for their fins. As a result, habitats that once served as safe areas for sharks to give birth have been affected. 

This article will delve into the efforts of an Arizona State University (ASU) professor, James Sulikowski, who has used tracking technology to conserve shark birthing areas.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sharks are facing extinction, with 75% of species at risk due to human activities such as finning.
  • Professor James Sulikowski has developed a groundbreaking satellite technology called the birth-alert tag (BAT) to track the time and location of shark births, which can help conservation efforts.
  • The BAT has already yielded valuable data, such as identifying abandoned shipwrecks as preferred birthing grounds for sand sharks.
  • Sulikowski plans to take the BAT global, creating a network of shark scientists worldwide to determine areas that are significant to sharks and how to protect them.
  • The use of technology such as the BAT can help identify areas where human activities may be having a negative impact on shark populations, allowing for targeted conservation efforts.
  • The conservation of shark birthing areas is crucial for the survival of many species and the ocean ecosystem.

The Importance of Shark Conservation

Sharks have a crucial function in maintaining the well-being of the ocean ecosystem, and it is essential for the planet and its inhabitants that they survive. 

Given that sharks have long gestation periods, produce a limited number of young, and mature late in life, repopulating them is challenging. As such, safeguarding newborn shark pups is essential to reversing the current trend of declining shark populations.

Professor Sulikowski’s Research

Professor James Sulikowski oversees the Sulikowski Shark and Fish Conservation Lab at the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences in ASU.He has devoted almost thirty years to studying sharks and has featured on multiple TV shows, such as the Today show, Ocean Mysteries, NatGeo, and the Discovery Channel. 

Sulikowski recognizes the significance of safeguarding shark birthing areas for the long-term survival of various shark species.

Sulikowski has researched and aided in the development of a groundbreaking satellite technology that documents the time and location of birth of shark pups from afar. This data enables the scientific community to devise ways to safeguard the sharks’ vulnerable birthing grounds.

The Birth-Alert Tag (BAT)

In a new publication released on March 1 in Science Advances, Professor James Sulikowski and marine ecologist Neil Hammerschlag from the University of Miami explained how they placed and monitored intrauterine satellite tags on two fast-moving sharks. These sharks were a scalloped hammerhead and a tiger shark, and the tag was a birth-alert tag (BAT).

The BAT is egg-shaped and inserted into a pregnant shark. The size of the technology is roughly 2 inches in length and 1 inch in width. After the shark delivers its offspring, the BAT is released along with the young ones and rises to the surface of the ocean.

 Afterward, the device changes to transmission mode and sends information about when and where the birth occurred.

The BAT’s Remarkable Results

The BAT has already yielded remarkable results. It was previously thought that sand sharks gave birth inland, but the scientists discovered that they prefer abandoned shipwrecks on the ocean floor.

The birthing location of several shark species is a mystery, and their journey to reach the crucial habitats for their survival is not yet clear. By identifying these habitats, conservation efforts can be made, such as creating sanctuaries or expanding areas already designated for this purpose.

Taking the BAT Global

Sulikowski intends to take the BAT global, creating a network of shark scientists worldwide to determine areas that are significant to sharks and how to protect them. 

The BAT has drawn a lot of attention, with an episode about Sulikowski’s research airing during Shark Week on the Discovery Channel in July.

Challenges of Developing the BAT

The development of the BAT has been a long and challenging process. It took Sulikowski and Hammerschlag over six years to create the technology, and there were numerous failures along the way, such as battery, firmware, and antenna malfunctions. 

There were times when they waited six, seven, or eight months without receiving any data, leading Sulikowski to feel like giving up multiple times. Nevertheless, they persevered, and Sulikowski feels proud to have created technology that will revolutionize the study of sharks.

One of the major challenges that Sulikowski and his team faced was designing a device that could withstand the harsh conditions of the ocean environment. The device needed to be able to function for an extended period underwater, withstand high water pressures, and be small enough to fit inside a pregnant shark.

Another challenge was developing a device that could accurately and reliably detect the moment when a shark gave birth. This required the team to study the behavior of pregnant sharks and determine the physical changes that occurred when a shark was about to give birth.

The team also had to consider the ethical implications of using the BAT. 

The device required inserting a small object into a pregnant shark, which raised concerns about the potential impact on the shark’s health and well-being. To address these concerns, the team worked closely with veterinarians and animal welfare experts to ensure that the device was safe for the shark and caused minimal harm.

Despite these challenges, Sulikowski and his team were determined to develop the BAT and were driven by the potential benefits that it could bring to shark conservation efforts.

Revolutionizing Shark Conservation Efforts

The development of the BAT has significant implications for shark conservation efforts. By identifying the locations of shark birthing areas, conservationists can work to protect these habitats and ensure the survival of vulnerable shark populations.

The BAT has already yielded significant results, providing valuable data about the birthing habits of various shark species. For example, the team discovered that sand sharks prefer abandoned shipwrecks on the ocean floor to give birth, rather than inland areas as was previously believed. This data can help with conservation initiatives, like establishing protected zones or expanding the existing ones, to safeguard these species.

The BAT can also help to identify areas where human activities, such as fishing or development, may be having a negative impact on shark populations. By identifying and mitigating these threats, conservationists can work to ensure that these habitats remain intact and that shark populations can thrive.

Sulikowski plans to take the BAT global, creating a network of shark scientists worldwide to determine areas that are significant to sharks and how to protect them. This collaborative approach has the potential to significantly enhance shark conservation efforts and ensure the long-term survival of these magnificent creatures.

Conclusion

Sharks are a vital component of the ocean ecosystem, and their survival is crucial for the planet and its inhabitants. However, many shark species are at risk of extinction due to human activities such as overfishing, habitat destruction, and climate change.

The conservation of shark birthing areas is essential for the survival of vulnerable shark populations. By using innovative technologies such as the BAT, conservationists can identify these habitats and work to protect them from threats such as fishing and development.

The development of the BAT has been a long and challenging process, but its potential benefits for shark conservation efforts are significant. By collaborating with shark scientists worldwide, Sulikowski plans to take the BAT global and revolutionize the study and conservation of sharks.

Through targeted conservation efforts and the use of innovative technologies, we can work to ensure the long-term survival of these magnificent creatures and protect the health and diversity of our oceans.

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Written by

Alexander Sterling

Alexander Sterling

Alexander Sterling is a renowned financial writer with over 10 years in the finance sector. With a strong economics background, he simplifies complex financial topics for a wide audience. Alexander contributes to top financial platforms and is working on his first book to promote financial independence.

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Judith

Judith

Judith Harvey is a seasoned finance editor with over two decades of experience in the financial journalism industry. Her analytical skills and keen insight into market trends quickly made her a sought-after expert in financial reporting.