Category Archives: Marine Education

The High Price of Peace of Mind

We Aussies love our beaches – in the warmer months the coastline has a magnetic pull, drawing us to the sand, sea and surf in our thousands.

But while the thought of a refreshing ocean dip might be appealing, the concept of potentially coming face to face with one of our most feared predators has prompted officials to take drastic action.

Shark nets have been deployed off the shoreline of the east coast for more than 80 years.  But they offer a false sense of security.  Stretching less than 200 metres long and extending down only 6 metres, these mesh barriers are at best a deterrent and certainly don’t make beaches attack proof.

Sharks can get under, over or around them, and as it turns out, more are caught on the shore side of the net when they’re heading back out to sea, than when they’re swimming towards shore.

The holes in the mesh are around 50 centimetres across – large enough to let small animals pass through, but the perfect size for trapping bigger species.

Turtles, dolphins and rays are common victims of the nets – becoming entangled and drowning or starving to death.  A major concern is the ensnaring of humpback whales on their journey back to Antarctica after their annual breeding season in the tropics.

Calves in particular are easy prey – in just over a decade 55 have been caught in the shark nets, including one off Noosa in late September this year.  Another swam down to Sydney with the remnants of a Queensland net still wrapped around its mouth.

But the toll on the animals targeted by these barriers is far greater. In 2017 alone, more than 500 sharks were caught in the nets off Queensland – 377 died, more than 100 others had to be euthanised – only 20 were released.

Amongst the victims were grey nurse sharks which are classified as critically endangered and pose no real threat to us.  The vast majority of species share the sea quite peacefully with people – only a handful of sharks are responsible for fatal attacks on humans.

Just to put it all into perspective, on average one person a year is killed by a shark in Australia, as opposed to 5 dying from falling out of bed, 10 struck down by lightning or perhaps the most sobering, more than 1,100 taken on our roads.

Shark attacks are extremely rare and there is no scientific evidence to prove that nets protect humans.  What we do know is the attempt to keep us safe is killing marine life indiscriminately.

Removing so many animals, including apex predators, will have an impact on  local marine ecosystems – but we won’t be able to calculate that cost until far too late.

Marine biologist, Holly Richmond, feels so passionately about the need to remove all nets, she’s created a video:  www.thesharknetfilm.com

Ocean Life Education is passionate about protecting all marine animals and focusing on the important role sharks play in our oceans.  For more information about our programs including our Shark Discovery presentation visit: https://www.oceanlifeeducation.com.au/programs/

 

Celebrating SeaWeek

There is one time of the year we look forward to more than any other at Ocean Life Education – when collectively as a nation, we take the opportunity to pay homage to the sea.

SeaWeek is Australia’s major public awareness campaign centred around our oceans – a chance to turn our attention on what the water does for us and what we in turn can do for it.

This year’s theme was ‘The Ocean made Earth Habitable’, focusing on how the majority of oxygen in our atmosphere has been produced by microscopic sea creatures during photosynthesis.  Thanks to their contribution over thousands of years, life on land was able to develop.

And the impact is still ongoing today – with more than 70 percent of the planet covered in water, it plays a major role in many aspects of our daily lives.

Australia has one of the largest ocean territories in the world – it drives our climate and weather and provides valuable resources. Marine animals and plants are found in medicines that are used to fight cancer, arthritis and heart disease.

On average, we each consume around 25 kilograms of seafood every year, harvesting more than 150, 000 tonnes of fish annually.

Eighty-five percent of Australians live within 50 kilometres of our vast shoreline – drawn to the water not only for food but fun as well. We have 10,000 beaches spread around our 50,000 kilometres of coast and almost 3 million of us own a boat allowing us to explore beyond the shallows.

But as we become more globally aware of climate change and the impact our modern lifestyle is having on the oceans, it’s time for us to breathe new life into the part of our planet that made all of this possible in the first place.

Ocean Life Education is dedicated to promoting the preservation of our marine environment.  Our Human Impact Program takes a close look at the effect we have on the world’s waterways and, most importantly, how we can make a change for the better to sustain our seas for generations to come.

To find out more and to become part of the solution, visit https://www.oceanlifeeducation.com.au/programs/

Shoreline Show Stoppers

Every winter, anyone along the East Coast of Australia gets a front row seat for one of nature’s most spectacular shows.

The stars are humpback whales – massive marine mammals that like to steal the limelight.  These traveller performers drop by on their 25,000 kilometre round trip between Antarctica and their breeding grounds in the tropics.

These acrobatic animals are definite crowd pleasers – playing to an appreciative audience….

Just the sight of a spout is enough to cause a commotion…and little wonder.  After holding their breath for twenty minutes, humpbacks can exhale several metres into the air…..

But it’s really just the warm up – the opening act can be pectoral fin slaps…. When their five metre long appendages slam onto the ocean surface – a wakeup call for anyone close by.

Tail slaps are another great way to grab attention. One is never enough.  It’s an opportunity to show off their personal fluke pattern – the best way to identify a humpback….

If they sense they’re losing their audience, the whales can opt for a spy hop – raising their head out of the water to assess the world around them….

But the absolute shop stopper is the full body breach – when up to 30 tonnes of mammal is launched into the air and slams back down.  The impact is phenomenal – seen and heard from kilometres away.

There’s lots of different theories as to why whales perform this manoeuvre – some feel it’s a way to communicate with other humpbacks close by; others believe it’s like a giant stretch after a long rest – a signal they’re about to get active again.

Either way its unforgettable – and can only be topped if there’s an understudy in tow.  Young calves accompany their mothers on the trip back south, eager to try out their performance skills as well.

At just five metres long, they’re only a fraction of their Mum’s size but still capable of making their presence felt.  Drinking 400 litres of milk a day, these youngsters grow quickly and by this time next year will be ready to go solo.

In a final bow to the crowd, the whales lift their tails and disappear from stage – diving deep and leaving the audience wanting more, with no indication where and when their next performance will be.

Even if you miss the show, you can learn more about these magnificent animals in one of Ocean Life Education’s Marine Mammal presentations.  Click here for more details.

A Shout out to Sharks

They are the most feared, yet the most misunderstood, of all marine animals – apex predators that pre-date the dinosaurs by an estimated 200 million years.

Of the almost 500 species of sharks swimming in our oceans, only a handful are the complex killers we hear about on the news – the majority have a far more sensitive side.

The reality is sharks don’t have a mean bone in their body… in fact they have no bones at all! Their skeletons are comprised of cartilage which is flexible and lightweight – allowing some to reach speeds of close to 100 kilometres an hour.

But while their sleek, race car bodies have helped them to survive for so long, ironically, it is also contributing to their downfall. Shark cartilage is used in beauty treatments and alternate medicines – a part of the reason 100 million of them are killed every year by humans.

It seems we have a love/hate relationship with these fish – while movies like Jaws are enough to keep some of us high and dry on the sand during a trip to the beach, others go to great lengths to absorb nutrients from sharks, adopting an eat or be eaten approach.

Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asia and demand for the prestige product has led to the decimation of some species including the scalloped hammerhead. The process of removing the dorsal fin from a live animal is illegal in Australian waters, but the practise is difficult to police.

But what many of us miss in our obsession with sharks, is some of their truly extraordinary abilities. Unlike humans, they breathe through gills, so their nostrils are purely dedicated to smelling. Their sense is so refined, they can detect one drop of blood in 100 litres of water. Even more astounding is they can identify which of their two nostrils picked up the scent to determine the direction to swim to track their prey.

But it’s not just smell they’re tuned into – their ability to pick up on electrical impulse and vibrations is so acute, they can sense a Double A battery from 3 kilometres away. And while these skills are designed to help them locate food, some species can survive for up to 3 months between meals – the ultimate fasting regime!

Apart from their unparalleled skill in sensing their next feast, sharks are also well equipped to chow down their catch. They are known for their multiple rows of razor sharp teeth – and it appears they have an endless supply. While humans have one set of large teeth to last a lifetime, many species of sharks can grow tens of thousands, quickly replacing any that have gone blunt and fallen out.

And while this may seem terrifying to us, the reality is we are not on their menu. Attacks on humans are generally a case of mistaken identity – surfers are the most common target, mimicking the shape of a seal on the surface. While it may be of little comfort, statistically, you are more likely to be killed by a falling coconut or a flying champagne cork than to be taken by a shark.

Ocean Life Education runs a Shark Discovery program that helps to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the most feared fish in the sea. It is one of our most popular presentations as we explore all the fascinating features that make these apex predators such effective hunters yet strangely vulnerable at the same time.

When all the hype and hysteria is removed, it is easy to see how sharks play a vital role in maintaining balance in the marine eco-system. Deep down, (and also on the surface of their snout!), they really are quite sensitive.