November, December - 2011
Grey Nurse Sharks ‘Missing in Action’
Australia Zoo lends its weight to international conservation effort to save the grey
It’s not often that people actively seek out sharks but thanks to a project in Australia
dedicated to uncovering the secrets of a diminishing grey nurse shark population a group of
committed researchers are on the front line searching for answers.
The Missing in Action research project forms part of a larger marine incentive known as
Greg Nurse Shark (GNS) Watch; launched in Queensland earlier this year. Grey Nurse
Shark Watch is the first of its kind to collect and collate results on the population and
behaviours of the endangered grey nurse shark species.
Missing In Action forms the field investigation component of the broader GNS Watch
project. The population of grey nurse sharks off the east coast of Australia is considered
critically endangered with less than a thousand sharks left in the wild. Hunted almost to
extinction in the 1950s, the grey nurse shark only breeds once every two to three years.
This combined with their low population numbers and other threats such as accidental
capture by fisherman and protective beach meshing continue to impact on recovery efforts
for this gentle giant.
Project partner Australia Zoo have assisted the first team of researchers to begin
investigating Queensland’s ‘missing’ aggregation sites – where the sharks meet to breed,
feed and gestate by generously donating the use of their world-famous vessel Croc One to
Without the use of Croc One and its highly specialised crew, this marine environment
would be virtually impossible to navigate.
Australia Zoo International Conservation Manager Giles Clark was excited to put Croc One
to use in the name of conservation.
"This vessel was designed by Steve Irwin and is a 75 foot purpose built craft guaranteed to
deliver the ultimate in performance during wildlife expeditions. This deep probe expedition
boat gives us the chance to research marine wildlife in remote locations, which makes it
ideal for the work being carried out by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Grey Nurse
Shark Watch," Giles said.
"Australia Zoo has a long-standing and very close relationship with FFI and we are pleased to offer our equipment and expertise to them."
The first research expedition departed on Monday 7 November and will continue through
December 2011 with researchers remaining confident further aggregation sites are still to
be located in Queensland waters.
Following an extensive GIS (geographic information system) review of potential sites, 25
locations were selected for the first round of field investigations. The field team deployed
remote underwater video cameras and acoustic listening stations from Guthrie Shoal,
Bustard Head and Lady Elliot Island near Gladstone, Fraser Island, the Sunshine Coast and
south to Moreton Bay.
The project is a massive exercise in logistics – not only with vessels, equipment, researchers
and volunteers, but in terms of funding and supporters.
To undertake this exercise, global conservation organisation, FFI are being assisted by the
University of Queensland, Department of Environment and Resource Management, Burnett
Mary Regional Group for NRM, Australian Capital Equity, the Ronald Geoffrey Arnott
Foundation (managed by Perpetual Trustees Australia Ltd), Lady Elliot Eco Resort and
FFI Executive Director, Jack Whelan is overwhelmed with the support of partners and
supporters of the project.
"We are grateful to all our partners for their support of this programme. It demonstrates a
real commitment, not only to increasing our knowledge about the grey nurse shark, but
ultimately conserving them," Mr Whelan said.
"There is no doubt that a collaborative approach is essential to ensure the success of this
research. Catalysing local partnerships has been at the heart of FFI conservation activities
for over a hundred years."