Scientists bank on birth tracking device to boost conservation of sharks

Whale Shark in the Indian Ocean Waters. [File, Standard]

Researchers have developed uterine implants for sharks to help determine where and when they give birth.

Researchers say the technology, known as birth-alert-tag, would help establish effective conservation measures for the endangered species.

While populations of sharks are generally on a decline across the world as a result of over-fishing and illegal fishing for their fins, there is lack of basic management monitoring, control, and surveillance of the species.

Researchers have developed a technology to protect the nursery grounds of the endangered shark species.

“Determining where and when animals give birth is critical for establishing effective conservation management that protects vulnerable life stages (pregnant females and newborns) and places (e.g, nursery grounds),” the researchers said in a Scientific journal published at Science Advances in March.

The researchers noted that information on the highly migratory sharks in the wild has been minimal, yet their decline is higher.

While conducting research, the team deployed the birth-alert-tag on two shark species along the Southeastern coast of the United States to remotely document the location and timing of birth.

The birth-alert tag, also known as a vaginal implant transmitter, is inserted into the uterus of pregnant sharks. It is expelled during birth, and satellite technology helps researchers tell the timing and location of birth sites.

“This novel technology will be valuable for the protection of threatened and endangered shark species, where protection of pupping and nursery grounds is a conservation priority,” the researchers said.

Although the technology has never been applied to marine systems owing to technical and logistical challenges, the recent technological advances in aquatic animal tracking have made it possible to create a waterproof, satellite-linked birth-alert-tag.

While Kenya has been among countries that have joined efforts globally towards the protection of endangered sharks, the technology might inform the recovery of the species, which are often a spectacle in Diani, Kwale county, between February and March, and November and December.

Recently, a global wildlife trade monitoring network launched marine species information boards in Kenya and Tanzania to guide fishers and traders on prohibited species.

The information boards launched by Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (Traffic), are expected to aid in the identification of threatened marine species.

They are expected to remind fishing communities to follow the laws to avoid wiping out rare species whose populations are under threat.

“In response to concerns over unsustainable and illegal catch and trade in East African nearshore fisheries, Traffic has launched information boards to raise awareness of prohibited species among fishers and traders, and aid compliance officers in identifying threatened marine species,” Traffic said in a statement. The information boards have been placed at strategic landing sites in Kenya and Tanzania and contain species protected by the law.