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Concept: Sharks


Despite the ongoing need for shark conservation and management, prevailing negative sentiments marginalize these animals and legitimize permissive exploitation. These negative attitudes arise from an instinctive, yet exaggerated fear, which is validated and reinforced by disproportionate and sensationalistic news coverage of shark ‘attacks’ and by highlighting shark-on-human violence in popular movies and documentaries. In this study, we investigate another subtler, yet powerful factor that contributes to this fear: the ominous background music that often accompanies shark footage in documentaries. Using three experiments, we show that participants rated sharks more negatively and less positively after viewing a 60-second video clip of swimming sharks set to ominous background music, compared to participants who watched the same video clip set to uplifting background music, or silence. This finding was not an artifact of soundtrack alone because attitudes toward sharks did not differ among participants assigned to audio-only control treatments. This is the first study to demonstrate empirically that the connotative attributes of background music accompanying shark footage affect viewers' attitudes toward sharks. Given that nature documentaries are often regarded as objective and authoritative sources of information, it is critical that documentary filmmakers and viewers are aware of how the soundtrack can affect the interpretation of the educational content.

Concepts: Film, Documentary film, Ambient music, Sharks


Sharks have greater risk for bioaccumulation of marine toxins and mercury (Hg), because they are long-lived predators. Shark fins and cartilage also contain β-N-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA), a ubiquitous cyanobacterial toxin linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Today, a significant number of shark species have found their way onto the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Many species of large sharks are threatened with extinction due in part to the growing high demand for shark fin soup and, to a lesser extent, for shark meat and cartilage products. Recent studies suggest that the consumption of shark parts may be a route to human exposure of marine toxins. Here, we investigated BMAA and Hg concentrations in fins and muscles sampled in ten species of sharks from the South Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. BMAA was detected in all shark species with only seven of the 55 samples analyzed testing below the limit of detection of the assay. Hg concentrations measured in fins and muscle samples from the 10 species ranged from 0.05 to 13.23 ng/mg. These analytical test results suggest restricting human consumption of shark meat and fins due to the high frequency and co-occurrence of two synergistic environmental neurotoxic compounds.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Toxin, Shark, Neurotoxin, IUCN Red List, Sharks, Shark finning, Shark fin soup


Elasmobranchs can detect minute electromagnetic fields, <1 nVcm(-1), using their ampullae of Lorenzini. Behavioural responses to electric fields have been investigated in various species, sometimes with the aim to develop shark deterrents to improve human safety. The present study tested the effects of the Shark Shield Freedom7™ electric deterrent on (1) the behaviour of 18 white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) near a static bait, and (2) the rates of attacks on a towed seal decoy. In the first experiment, 116 trials using a static bait were performed at the Neptune Islands, South Australia. The proportion of baits taken during static bait trials was not affected by the electric field. The electric field, however, increased the time it took them to consume the bait, the number of interactions per approach, and decreased the proportion of interactions within two metres of the field source. The effect of the electric field was not uniform across all sharks. In the second experiment, 189 tows using a seal decoy were conducted near Seal Island, South Africa. No breaches and only two surface interactions were observed during the tows when the electric field was activated, compared with 16 breaches and 27 surface interactions without the electric field. The present study suggests that the behavioural response of white sharks and the level of risk reduction resulting from the electric field is contextually specific, and depends on the motivational state of sharks.

Concepts: Electromagnetism, Electric charge, Electromagnetic field, Great white shark, Shark, Lamniformes, Megalodon, Sharks


Aerial surveys are a recognised technique to identify the presence and abundance of marine animals. However, the capability of aerial observers to reliably sight coastal sharks has not been previously assessed, nor have differences in sighting rates between aircraft types been examined. In this study we investigated the ability of observers in fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft to sight 2.5 m artificial shark analogues placed at known depths and positions. Initial tests revealed that the shark analogues could only be detected at shallow depths, averaging only 2.5 m and 2.7 m below the water surface for observers in fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft, respectively. We then deployed analogues at shallower depths along a 5 km-long grid, and assessed their sightability to aircraft observers through a series of transects flown within 500 m. Analogues were seen infrequently from all distances, with overall sighting rates of only 12.5% and 17.1% for fixed-wing and helicopter observers, respectively. Although helicopter observers had consistently higher success rates of sighting analogues within 250 m of their flight path, neither aircraft observers sighted more than 9% of analogues deployed over 300 m from their flight paths. Modelling of sighting rates against environmental and experimental variables indicated that observations were affected by distance, aircraft type, sun glare and sea conditions, while the range of water turbidities observed had no effect. We conclude that aerial observers have limited ability to detect the presence of submerged animals such as sharks, particularly when the sharks are deeper than ∼2.6 m, or over 300 m distant from the aircraft’s flight path, especially during sunny or windy days. The low rates of detections found in this study cast serious doubts on the use of aerial beach patrols as an effective early-warning system to prevent shark attacks.

Concepts: Observation, Flight, Rocket, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Aircraft, Helicopter, Sharks


There is increasing concern about the conservation status of sharks. However, the presence of numerous different (and potentially mutually exclusive) policies complicates management implementation and public understanding of the process. Here we present the results of a survey that was distributed to members of the largest professional shark and ray research societies to assess member preferences for different conservation policies. Questions covered society member opinions towards available conservation and management policies, personal histories of getting involved in advocacy and management, and perceptions of the environmental conservation non-governmental organization (NGO) approach to shark conservation. Members of the shark and ray research community consider themselves to be knowledgeable about and actively involved in conservation and management policy. They are generally supportive of a variety of conservation policy tools that differ greatly in approach. Society members were generally less supportive of newer limit-based conservation policy tools, such as Shark Sanctuaries and shark fin bans, than of target-based fisheries management tools like fishing quotas that focus on species-specific sustainable exploitation. However, they provided few current examples of sustainable shark fisheries. Society members were generally supportive of environmental NGO efforts to conserve sharks, but raised concerns about some NGOs which are perceived as using incorrect information and focusing on the wrong problems. These results show that the ongoing debate in environmental policymaking circles between target-based natural resources management tools and limit-based conservation biology tools can also be found with respect to shark conservation and management. They also suggest that closer communication between the scientific and environmental NGO communities may be needed to recognize and reconcile differing values and objectives between these groups. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Policy, Non-governmental organization, Oxfam, Civil society, Shark, Natural capital, Sharks


The shark fin trade is a major driver of shark exploitation in fisheries all over the world, most of which are not managed on a species-specific basis. Species-specific trade information highlights taxa of particular concern and can be used to assess the efficacy of management measures and anticipate emerging threats. The species composition of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, one of the world’s largest fin trading hubs, was partially assessed in 1999-2001. We randomly selected and genetically identified fin trimmings (n = 4,800), produced during fin processing, from the retail market of Hong Kong in 2014-2015 to assess contemporary species composition of the fin trade. We used nonparametric species estimators to determine that at least 76 species of sharks, batoids, and chimaeras supplied the fin trade and a Bayesian model to determine their relative proportion in the market. The diversity of traded species suggests species substitution could mask depletion of vulnerable species; one-third of identified species face serious risk of extinction. The Bayesian model suggested that 8 species each comprised >1% of the fin trimmings (34.1-64.2% for blue [Prionace glauca]; 0.2-1.2% for bull [Carcharhinus leucas] and shortfin mako [Isurus oxyrinchus]); thus, trade was skewed to a few globally distributed species. Several other coastal sharks, batoids, and chimaeras are in the trade but poorly managed. Fewer than 10 of the species we modeled have sustainably managed fisheries anywhere in their range, including the most common species in trade, the blue shark. Our study and approach serve as a baseline to track changes in composition of species in the fin trade over time to better understand patterns of exploitation and assess the effects of emerging management actions for these animals. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Copyright, Shark, Chondrichthyes, Lamnidae, Sharks, Blue shark, Carcharhiniformes, Shortfin mako shark


Determining the age of sharks using vertebral banding is a vital component of management, but the causes of banding are not fully understood. Traditional shark ageing is based on fish otolith ageing methods where growth bands are assumed to result from varied seasonal calcification rates. Here we investigate these assumptions by mapping elemental distribution within the growth bands of vertebrae from six species of sharks representing four different taxonomic orders using scanning x-ray fluorescence microscopy. Traditional visual growth bands, determined with light microscopy, were more closely correlated to strontium than calcium in all species tested. Elemental distributions suggest that vertebral strontium bands may be related to environmental variations in salinity. These results highlight the requirement for a better understanding of shark movements, and their influence on vertebral development, if confidence in age estimates is to be improved. Analysis of shark vertebrae using similar strontium-focused elemental techniques, once validated for a given species, may allow more successful estimations of age on individuals with few or no visible vertebral bands.

Concepts: Fluorescence, Estimator, Biology, Microscopy, Vertebrate, Taxonomic rank, Shark, Sharks


Investigation of the social framing of human-shark interactions may provide useful strategies for integrating social, biological, and ecological knowledge into national and international policy discussions about shark conservation. One way to investigate social opinion and forces related to sharks and their conservation is through the media’s coverage of sharks. We conducted a content analysis of 300 shark-related articles published in 20 major Australian and U.S. newspapers from 2000 to 2010. Shark attacks were the emphasis of over half the articles analyzed, and shark conservation was the primary topic of 11% of articles. Significantly more Australian articles than U.S. articles treated shark attacks (χ(2) = 3.862; Australian 58% vs. U.S. 47%) and shark conservation issues (χ(2) = 6.856; Australian 15% vs. U.S. 11%) as the primary article topic and used politicians as the primary risk messenger (i.e., primary person or authority sourced in the article) (χ(2) = 7.493; Australian 8% vs. U.S. 1%). However, significantly more U.S. articles than Australian articles discussed sharks as entertainment (e.g., subjects in movies, books, and television; χ(2) = 15.130; U.S. 6% vs. Australian 1%) and used scientists as the primary risk messenger (χ(2) = 5.333; U.S. 25% vs. Australian 15%). Despite evidence that many shark species are at risk of extinction, we found that most media coverage emphasized the risks sharks pose to people. To the extent that media reflects social opinion, our results highlight problems for shark conservation. We suggest that conservation professionals purposefully and frequently engage with the media to highlight the rarity of shark attacks, discuss preventative measures water users can take to reduce their vulnerability to shark encounters, and discuss conservation issues related to local and threatened species of sharks. When integrated with biological and ecological data, social-science data may help generate a more comprehensive perspective and inform conservation practice. Descripción de Tiburones y su Conservación por Medios Informativos Australianos y Norteamericanos.

Concepts: Ecology, Endangered species, Conservation, Shark, Mass media, Bull shark, Sharks, Oceanic whitetip shark


Shark tourism is a popular but controversial activity. We obtained insights into this industry via a global e-mailed questionnaire completed by 45 diving/snorkelling operators who advertised shark experiences (shark operators) and 49 who did not (non-shark operators). 42% of shark operators used an attractant to lure sharks and 93% stated they had a formal code of conduct which 86% enforced “very strictly”. While sharks were reported to normally ignore people, 9 operators had experienced troublesome behaviour from them. Whilst our research corroborates previous studies indicating minimal risk to humans from most shark encounters, a precautionary approach to provisioning is required to avoid potential ecological and societal effects of shark tourism. Codes of conduct should always stipulate acceptable diver behaviour and appropriate diver numbers and shark operators should have a moral responsibility to educate their customers about the need for shark conservation.

Concepts: Psychology, Morality, Shark, Insight, Sharks, Shark finning


This research examines a series of six Florida forensic anthropology cases that exhibit taphonomic evidence of marine deposition and shark-feeding activities. In each case, we analyzed patterns of trauma/damage on the skeletal remains (e.g., sharp-force bone gouges and punctures) and possible mechanisms by which they were inflicted during shark predation/scavenging. In some cases, shark teeth were embedded in the remains; in the absence of this evidence, we measured interdental distance from defects in the bone to estimate shark body length, as well as to draw inferences about the potential species responsible. We discuss similarities and differences among the cases and make comparisons to literature documenting diagnostic shark-inflicted damage to human remains from nearby regions. We find that the majority of cases potentially involve bull or tiger sharks scavenging the remains of previously deceased, adult male individuals. This scavenging results in a distinctive taphonomic signature including incised gouges in cortical bone.

Concepts: Bone, Skeletal system, Great white shark, Decomposition, Shark, Bull shark, Sharks, Oceanic whitetip shark