New study predicting locations of tiger sharks may help protect swimmers from potential attacks

  • Thursday, March 8, 2018

A new study in the Department of Life Sciences has found that tiger sharks, a potentially dangerous species for swimmers, in several countries (including the United States and Australia) are most active and abundant in coastal waters of 22 degrees Celsius. This study enables ecologists to predict tiger shark population locations, which may aid in protecting swimmers from potential attacks.  

Image - New study predicting locations of tiger sharks may help protect swimmers from potential attacks

Roehampton zoologist, Dr Nick Payne, and his international team conducted a study to understand how temperature influences both the distribution patterns of tiger sharks and their physiological performance, enabling them to predict their locations. The team compiled an extensive data set on tiger shark coastal locations spanning decades along Australia’s eastern coast.  Then, they used accelerometers (small tags similar to a sports watch) to measure dynamic body activity (a representation of swimming performance) of tiger sharks as they swam freely in their environment, and determined how swimming performance varies with water temperature.

The combination of distribution and performance data provides an understanding of tiger shark’s thermal niche, and delivers an indicator for predicting the location and timing of their occurrences throughout coastlines. Tiger sharks are mostly caught at Australia’s popular New South Wales beaches, near Sydney, in the warmest months, but the data suggest similar abundances will occur in winter and summer if annual sea surface temperatures increase by a further 1-2°C.

Dr Nick Payne said ‘Tiger sharks are responsible for a large proportion of shark bites on humans, and a focus of controversial control measures in several countries. Building our understanding of the biology and ecology of dangerous species might enable us to develop shark management strategies. If the likely temperature increases in a sea surface temperate over the coming decades, we will see a corresponding shift in the distributions of tiger sharks’.

The study was published this week in the journal Global Change Biology, read the article here.

The Department of Life Sciences at the University of Roehampton offers outstanding undergraduate courses in Zoology and Biological Sciences.