Scientists tag endangered sharks

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Researchers are tracking two grey nurse sharks in the waters off south east Queensland in a bid to protect the endangered species.The researchers believe a fishing exclusion zone around where the sharks live is already helping the species and hope tracking data will aid protection measures.

Sea World’s head of marine sciences Trevor Long said two female sharks – up to three metres long – were tagged in the past fortnight to monitor their movement in and around Wolf Rock off Double Island Point.

Wolf Rock is a rocky formation of volcanic pinnacles popular for scuba divers and home to a variety of marine life, including the endangered grey nurse shark.

In 2003, the Queensland government established an exclusion zone banning recreational fishing in parts of Wolf Rock because sharks were dying after biting on fishing hooks.

“The idea of the tracking is to prove how the sharks utilise the rocks and to determine that they don’t go further than half a nautical mile away from the rock,” Mr Long said.

“The exclusion zone will protect the grey nurse but will allow fishermen to come in and fish on the extremities (of Wolf Rock) without endangering the sharks.

“There has been some opposition to the exclusion zones, but I think people are more comfortable with it if they know there’s good science and reasoning behind it.”

Mr Long said from observations while diving off Wolf Rock this week, it appeared the exclusion zone was working.

“We normally see a lot of hooks in the mouths of the sharks where they’ve bitten on the fishermen’s lines and ended up dying from it,” said Mr Long, who said there were only about 500 grey nurses left on the east coast of Australia.

“It’s interesting to note lately that none of the grey nurses – and it’s the largest congregation of sharks I’ve seen up there in 35 years – had any hooks in them.

“That’s saying the exclusion zone is working. Not only that, there’s an abundance of marine life thriving in the area.”

Mr Long believes more fishing exclusion zones are needed along the NSW and Queensland coasts to help protect marine life.

Source: The Age/AAP