shark on Kronos Reef, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge; photo by Wyland

After the blockbuster movie Jaws, two silly things happened: kids started calling me Hooper (instead of Cooper) and I was afraid even in the deep end of a swimming pool. Logic can battle fear, but not necessarily win. Even though there are hundreds of species of sharks, and about 20 types that ever harm people, a fin in the water elicits screams. People should be cautious and smart when in waters with Great White sharks, just as they should be when hiking in areas with Grizzly bears or Mountain lions. Just as they should be cautious when driving, when choosing foods, and going down stairways. There are hazards everywhere.

But we shouldn’t let fear, or the aesthetics of beauty determine conservation priorities. People tend to be sympathetic to a relatively few “poster species” for conservation even though most species in need of conservation actions are not generally considered cute, cuddly, or obviously useful.  Even though many species of sharks are near extinction, I realize that my own conservation orientation is dampened by fear, despite knowing that people are at far greater risk of death from lightning than sharks. On top of that, sharks are the ones with more reason to be afraid because people kill tens of millions of sharks annually.

For me, only fascination can lessen my fear and spark my conservation concern. As  Irish poet James Stephens put it, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”

Fortunately, sharks are fascinating. Sharks have a sixth sense, electroreception, through an organ called the ampullae of Lorenzini. They also have what could be called a seventh sense: their lateral line organ acts like an internal barometer so they can sense tiny changes in pressure from passing objects. With eyes on the sides of their heads, sharks have nearly panoramic views, with blind spots only in front of their snout and directly behind their head. Plus, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The dwarf shark is only about 4 inches long, which makes it cute. Some sharks give birth to live offspring, called pups, which, again, seems pretty cute. Other species lay egg cases with the nickname mermaid’s purses: adorable. Some sharks are social, and forms schools and migrate together. Almost 50 species of sharks have photospheres, which are light-emitting organs.

There are over 1,000 species of elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) and 24% of are on IUCN red list, meaning they are threatened by extinction. One major challenge to shark conservation is the fear factor that limits public concern. Their biology challenges to their conservation too: they have naturally low population densities and their large home ranges often span the coasts of multiple countries. Another challenge is that, for almost half the species, there is not enough information to assess their extinction risk. The data gap on so many species across the world has been a call to citizen science. Now there are projects that draw on recreational divers, dive guides, photographers, beach goers, and more.

whale shark 2014 by Nicholas Lindell Reynolds

For example, divers and guides monitor shark numbers in Sharkscount. Divers photograph whale sharks in Philippines as part of the Large Marine Vertebrates Project. From photos of whale sharks, researchers can use pattern recognition software (originally developed by NASA) to identify individuals based on their unique spots and stripes. Whale shark photos aggregated in Wild Book for Whale Sharks allow researchers to estimate their abundance. Recreational divers help Redmap in Western Australia to map the abundance and distribution of sharks.

Other citizen scientists stroll the beaches and search for mermaid’s purses. The locations where these egg cases wash up on shore can help identify potential nurseries and assess shark abundance and distribution. For example, in the UK and Italy, citizen scientists find egg cases of Smallspotted Catsharks and Nursehounds.

egg case of a lesser spotted dogfish by Tom Oates 2009

Irrespective of whether you feel a connection with sharks based on fear or fascination, we need to recognize that they are part of healthy ocean ecosystems.

If you like sharks or if you suffer from galeophobia (an excessive fear of sharks), join us for the next #CitSciChat, a Twitter discussion about citizen science. This week, which is Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, we’ll talk about citizen science with sharks. What people do, why they do it, and why this means YOU!

The #CitSciChat will be Wednesday 8 July 2pm EDT, 7pm BST, 8pm SAST, which corresponds to Thursday 9 July 6am NZST.

Sharks live around the world and so do our guest panelists:

Rebecca Jarvis (@Rebecca_Jarvis) a graduate student in New Zealand.

Katie Gledhill (@KatGledhill) with the South African Shark Conservancy and Earthwatch shark project.

David Shiffman (@WhySharks Matter) a graduate student at University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy

Jake Leveson (@SCBMarine & @jacoblevenson), a marine biologist at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and  Education Officer with the Marine section of the Society of Conservation Biology.

Jason Osborne (@paleoexplorer), President and Cofounder of Paleo Quest (@paleoquest), and Cofounder of SharkFinder citizen science (@shark_citsci)

Catalina Pimiento (@pimientoc), a PhD candidate in the U of Florida (defending this Friday!). Her research investigates the ecology of sharks in deep time. Next month she begins a post doc fellowship at the Paläontologisches Institut und Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

About Caren Cooper

Caren is the assistant director of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. She is an avian ecologist and relies on citizen science to help communities use birds as indicators of environmental health. She hosts monthly chat sessions about citizen science on Twitter. Follow her at @CoopSciScoop

 

Coop’s Scoop: Shark citizen science, on the next #CitSciChat – CitizenSci.

Source: Coop’s Scoop: Shark citizen science, on the next #CitSciChat – CitizenSci

Welcome to the First Edition of Citizen Science Today!

By Chris Lintott and Lucy Fortson

We’re delighted to announce the launch of Citizen Science Today as the latest PressForward publication, presented by the Zooniverse and our friends from the growing community of researchers and practitioners of citizen science.

Citizen science – the involvement of non-professionals in the research process – has been part of research for centuries, and fields ranging from paleontology to meteorology got their start through the efforts of volunteers. In recent years, the vast increase in the volume and variety of data, as well as the velocity with which it arrives, has led to a revival.

Citizen scientists now discover planets, map the human brain and explore their local environments. Yet the literature describing these efforts is widely distributed between fields, encompassing computer science and human computation, psychology, economics, information science, museum studies, domain sciences such as astrophysics, and on and on… and then there’s all the non-peer-reviewed work.

Citizen Science Today is thus born out of the need to aggregate important peer reviewed content together with blog posts, evaluation summaries, reports on methods and protocols, and technical reports as well as policy and ethics statements.

For lead editors Chris Lintott and Lucy Fortson, the process of engaging with citizen science includes continually discovering papers and posts they should have read. As the citizen science research and practioner community is growing, especially as shown through the emergence of the Citizen Science Association in the US, and the European Citizen Science Association, we expect that many of you may be in the same boat. And thanks to the Press Forward plugin, we now have the opportunity to aggregate material on citizen science from across the Internet. With an editorial team encompassing experts from all corners of the academy and beyond, Citizen Science Today takes a crowdsourcing approach for finding and sharing information, aggregating online resources curated by editors to highlight good writing and clear-sighted scholarship related to citizen science. We hope Citizen Science Today will be the solution – a one-stop shop – for anyone interested in perusing the latest goings-on in the wide ranging field of public participation in research. Look for new content every first Tuesday of the month!

We thank the Sloan Foundation and the team at RRCHNM, including Stephanie Westcott and Mandy Regan, for their help in enabling Citizen Science Today to become a Press Forward pilot publication. Our Managing Editor is Juliana Vievering at the University of Minnesota. We also thank Justin Schell and Laureen Boutang of the University of Minnesota Libraries and Adam McMaster of the Oxford University Zooniverse team for their assistance in managing the push towards our first edition.

How To Know When to Mow

We know that grassland habitats are important for the birds we love to watch throughout the summer. Bluebirds and swallows in particular prefer the view from their nest box or tree cavity to be an open, grassy expanse complete with wildflowers and insects. And in order to maintain this picturesque “early-successional” habitat for our avian friends, mowing becomes a necessity. To become better habitat stewards, we need to take a closer look at this complex web of life.

How to Know When to Mow

Grassland Gallery

White lipped tree frog (by Felanox/Wikipedia,/CC BY-SA 3.0)

White lipped tree frog (by Felanox/Wikipedia,/CC BY-SA 3.0)

This is an except of a story that ran in the February 2015 issue of Association of Zoos and Aquariums monthly magazine, Connect.

Looking for amphibious citizen science projects? Look no further! SciStarter has some lined up for you right here.

By Cathie Gandel

At dusk, Carolyn Rinaldi and her 14-year-old daughter sit silently on the shores of the lake at Wadsworth Falls State Park in Middletown, Conn. Then their ears go into overdrive. For three minutes they count the different grunts, gribbets, croaks and peeps emanating from frogs and toads resident in the wetlands.

They are just two of the volunteers that took part in FrogWatch USA during 2014, a citizen science program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The name is somewhat of a misnomer. The program could be called FrogListen.  Volunteers identify frogs by listening to their mating calls and indicating whether each was heard individually, in a group or in a full chorus.

AZA took over management of the program in 2009 and began to establish a network of chapters throughout the country. Chapter coordinators bring creativity to the program, as well as train volunteers in the necessary monitoring protocols. “The volunteers feel connected to a local group and engaged with a community,” said Rachel Gauza, education outreach coordinator at AZA.

Why Frogs and Toads are Important

According to the IUCN, more than one-third of the world’s 6,000 amphibian species are threatened with extinction.  Their permeable skins make them sensitive to environmental changes, including habitat destruction, climate change and water pollution caused by fertilizer runoff and pesticides.

“It’s the canary in the coal mine kind of thing,” said James Sirch, education coordinator at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and leader of the chapter co-hosted by the museum and Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Conn.  As the environment changes, the frogs will let us know, he said.

Training

“This is one program that is easily learned with a little bit of help and time,” said Sirch. But it does take practice.

Some chapters develop their own training tools for recognizing the different calls of species. For example, Matt Neff, in the Department of Herpetology at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, and lead coordinator of the Smithsonian National Zoo chapter, has designed a website that allows volunteers to practice their skills. The chapter at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio is working on a CD of calls recorded at different sites. “The training usually involves listening to one call at a time,” said Dr. Jennifer Clark, assistant professor of biology at the college.  “But in the field, you hear overlapping calls. The CD will be more realistic.”

Monitoring

While training materials may differ, monitoring protocols are the same. Volunteers must be at their site at least 30 minutes after sundown, sit quietly for two minutes and listen for three minutes. Then they note the species name and calling intensity. “If you hear just a few separate individuals without overlap, that is a one, calls overlapping is a two and a full chorus is a three, said James Sirch.  “If you don’t hear any frogs, you write down zero,” he says. “Hearing nothing tells you something, too.”

Volunteers can choose wetland sites near their homes and are encouraged to monitor twice a week from February through August because different species of frogs breed at different times.  Volunteers enter their data into FrogWatch-FieldScope, which makes information instantly available to anyone who wants to see a species’ range or discover what other species are being heard in their community and throughout the country.

“We’ve found that FrogWatch-FieldScope has helped with the retention of volunteers,” said Matt Neff. “Volunteers can see the impact of their data in real time.”

Barbara Foster, lead coordinator of the FrogWatch Researchers of the Greenville Zoo (FROGZ) chapter in South Carolina, appreciates the immediacy of the data. “I know when I check FrogWatch-FieldScope it is current.”

Why Get Involved?

“We’re doing it for fun but also for the greater good of protecting a whole class of animals,” said Jenny Kinch, an education instructor at the Greenville Zoo.  FrogWatch USA also gets you out of the house and into nature where you never know what you might discover.

“You’ll be listening for frogs and all of a sudden, a beaver will slap its tail right behind you. It’s just fun,” said Greenville volunteer Valerie Murphy.

Dolores Reed and her husband, volunteers near Washington, DC, go out together. “It’s our date night,” she said. They have seen foxes and watched the courtship flights of snipes and woodcocks.

And then there is what Rachel Gauza calls the “treasure hunt” aspect of the program: hearing an unexpected or rare mating call, or even observing a new species for the area.

This program is more than just amphibian research, said Amanda Watson, an education instructor at the Greenville Zoo. “The program ties into so much that the AZA is about: climate change, the health of the habitat and conservation,” she said.

Join FrogWatch USA and make a difference.

Cathie Gandel is a communications professional based in Bridgehampton, N.Y.  She has spent over 25 years in journalism, corporate communications, and public relations – some of that time with major corporations such as Time, Inc., some with smaller companies and some as an independent consultant or freelancer.For more see www.cathiegandel.com

 

The post Make a Difference by Counting Croaks appeared first on CitizenSci.

Source: Make a Difference by Counting Croaks

A group of conservation, animal welfare, and media groups filed suit challenging the state of Wyoming for its data trespassing laws passed in the 2015 session.

Plaintiffs Western Watersheds Project, National Press Photographers Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Center for Food Safety filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne.

The data trespassing laws made national headlines in May, when an opinion piece in Slate magazine said they could make it illegal for a citizen to share photos taken in Yellowstone National Park with a government agency.

Sponsors of the bills, including Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs), said the laws did not reach that far. Yet the language was expansive enough to put scientists at the University of Wyoming on edge, asking for guidance in how to proceed with public lands fieldwork to support research.

 

Source: Groups sue Wyoming over “data trespassing” law

This paper, by Ramine Tinati of the University of Southampton et al, studies Eyewire‘s use of real-time chat, looking at the contributions of both chatting and non-chatting members of the community. It was published in ACM Web Science 2015, and is available as a preprint here.

Citizen science is changing the process of scientific knowledge discovery.
Successful projects rely on an active and able collection of
volunteers. In order to attract, and sustain citizen scientists, designers
are faced with the task of transforming complex scientific
tasks into something accessible, interesting, and hopefully, engaging.
In this paper, we examine the citizen science game EyeWire.
Our analysis draws up a dataset of over 4,000,000 completed game
and 885,000 chat entries, made by over 90,000 players. The analysis
provides a detailed understanding of how features of the system
facilitate player interaction and communication alongside completing
the gamified scientific task. Based on the analysis we describe
a set of behavioural characteristics which identify different types of
players within the EyeWire platform.

This post first ran on the Zooniverse blog and describes work by Cox et al published in Computing in Science & Engineering

What makes one citizen science project flourish while another flounders? Is there a foolproof recipe for success when creating a citizen science project? As part of building and helping others build projects that ask the public to contribute to diverse research goals, we think and talk a lot about success and failure at the Zooniverse.

But while our individual definitions of success overlap quite a bit, we don’t all agree on which factors are the most important. Our opinions are informed by years of experience, yet before this year we hadn’t tried incorporating our data into a comprehensive set of measures — or “metrics”. So when our collaborators in the VOLCROWE project proposed that we try to quantify success in the Zooniverse using a wide variety of measures, we jumped at the chance. We knew it would be a challenge, and we also knew we probably wouldn’t be able to find a single set of metrics suitable for all projects, but we figured we should at least try to write down one possible approach and note its strengths and weaknesses so that others might be able to build on our ideas.

The results are in Cox et al. (2015):

Defining and Measuring Success in Online Citizen Science: A Case Study of Zooniverse Projects

In this study, we only considered projects that were at least 18 months old, so that all the projects considered had a minimum amount of time to analyze their data and publish their work. For a few of our earliest projects, we weren’t able to source the raw classification data and/or get the public-engagement data we needed, so those projects were excluded from the analysis. We ended up with a case study of 17 projects in all (plus the Andromeda Project, about which more in part 2).

The full paper is available here (or here if you don’t have academic institutional access), and the purpose of these blog posts is to summarize the method and discuss the implications and limitations of the results.

Methods

The overall goal of the study was to combine different quantitative measures of Zooniverse projects along 2 axes: “Contribution To Science” and “Public Engagement”.

A fair bit of ink has been spilled in the academic literature about the key outcomes that point to success for a citizen science project. This work brought many of those together (and adapted some of them), combining similar measures into categories. These included some basic measures like:

  • number of classifications;
  • number of volunteers;
  • number of posts on the project forum/Talk;
  • number of posts by research team members on the forum/Talk;
  • number of posts on blogs and social media; and
  • number of publications.

In order to help compare different projects, our study controlled each of these measures for either the project age (time period between the start of the project and now) or duration (the number of days the project was actively collecting classifications), depending on which was most appropriate.

There were also more advanced measures, such as:

  • the classification Gini coefficient, which measures how the workload in each project is distributed among the volunteers;
  • the fraction of volunteers who only completed the tutorial and never actually classified;
  • the count of research papers written with project volunteers as named co-authors; and
  • the amount of time someone would have to work as a full-time employee to produce the project’s classifications.

Additionally, we collected some measures that we didn’t end up using, such as the fraction of forum/Talk threads that were conversations as opposed to single comments, the typical length of forum/Talk posts, and various measures of the popularity of project blogs and social media accounts. While we’d like to include these in a future analysis that allows for additional nuances, the idea behind this study was a clean aggregation and combination of relatively straightforward quantitative measures.

Once we’d collected and normalized all our data across projects, the data was combined by category into quantitative measures for each project. Each of the 4 categories (called performance indicators in the paper) was made up of 3 individual measures. Here’s what the “Data Value” performance indicator looks like for the projects:

chart showing performance indicators for contributions to science in Zooniverse citizen science projects

A couple of notes here:

  • The ABCD categories are: Galaxy Zoo, Other Astronomy, Ecology, and Other.
  • The reference to Old Weather throughout this study is actually to the latest Old Weather project, which began collecting classifications in mid-2012. I’ll discuss Old Weather in much greater detail in part 2.

There are 4 charts like this, 2 for “Contribution to Science” and 2 for “Public Engagement”. In the interest of further distilling things down into a “simple” measure of success, the study combines both charts for each broad measure into 1 number, so that “Public Engagement” and “Contribution to Science” can  be plotted against one another:

Public engagement vs Contribution to science : the success matrix
Public Engagement vs Contribution to Science for 17 Zooniverse projects. The size (area) of each point is proportional to the total number of classifications received by the project. Each axis of this plot combines 6 different quantitative project measures.

This is the Zooniverse Project Success Matrix from Cox et al. (2015). Note that the drawn axes represent average values, not zero, and anyway the numbers themselves are more or less meaningless because measures of different units were combined and everything has been normalized across projects.

In the next post, I’ll discuss some of the implications and limitations of this way of measuring project success.

Citizen science is a flexible concept which can be adapted and applied within diverse situations and disciplines. The statements below were developed by the Sharing best practice and building capacity working group of the European Citizen Science Association, led by the Natural History Museum London with input from many members of the Association, to set out some of the key principles which as a community we believe underlie good practice in citizen science.
Full text here.

PALM SPRINGS — Carrying notebooks and GPS devices, researchers walked through the desert of Joshua Tree National Park conducting a scientific survey, methodically scanning the ground for lizards.

Leading the group were ecologists from the University of California, Riverside. But the rest of the researchers were “citizen scientists” — volunteers from Maine, Minnesota and Canada who signed up through the Earthwatch Institute to support a week of scientific research in the desert.

The volunteers have been providing critical support for a long-term research project that aims to assess the impacts of climate change in the national park.

“The main thing is to catalog what we have now so that they’ll know what’s happening in the future,” said Warren Stortroen, a veteran Earthwatch volunteer who has been on 86 research expeditions around the world during the past two decades.

Stortroen, an 82-year-old retired insurance claim center manager from St. Paul, Minn., has joined research outings in places ranging from Australia to South Africa. This was his first time assisting scientists in the Mojave Desert.

“I enjoy the teamwork. I enjoy working with nature,” he said, pausing beside boulders while the group took a break and pulled out their water bottles.

Stortroen was one of 15 Earthwatch volunteers — American, British and Canadian — who helped with the research earlier this month in Joshua Tree National Park. The volunteers split up with park biologists and UC scientists to conduct surveys of plants, count birds and record the numbers of lizards and other reptiles.

The researchers also counted animals such as scorpions and pocket mice that fell into “pitfall traps” — plastic buckets hidden in holes in the ground so that wandering creatures fall in during the night.

Scientists with the national park and UC Riverside began their project last year to track the effects of climate change in Joshua Tree. They have been carrying out surveys on 27 plots that were selected in the park, each one of them a quadrant of about 22 acres.

Joshua Tree National Park stretches from the low-lying and hotter Sonoran Desert to the cooler and higher Mojave Desert, and biologists expect to see significant changes in the vegetation and animal habitats as the climate warms in the coming decades.

Some changes have already been documented. As average temperatures have grown hotter, scientists have found that Joshua trees are gradually dying out in parts of the national park. The knee-high young trees that normally would sprout have largely vanished from some areas, and the remaining mature trees are slowly dying.

Some scientists have estimated that if global temperatures continue to warm as predicted due to rising levels of greenhouse gases, Joshua trees could vanish from up to 90% of their range in the park by the end of the century.

Researchers have found that some types of trees and shrubs have been withering at lower elevations while flourishing at higher elevations. Other plants, such as California junipers and pinyon pines, have been dying in parts of the desert.

Some lizards and insects also have been disappearing from areas where they once thrived, and populations of birds have shifted to higher elevations as the climate has grown hotter and drier. In one area of Joshua Tree National Park, researchers have found large numbers of dead desert tortoises during the severe drought.

To carry out surveys, it helps for the scientists to have a large group of people participating. In each plot, the researchers divide up the area and examine the vegetation by laying out measuring tape and writing down details about the plants they see. They also walk through the plots in formation, marking down the species of reptiles they find.

Cameron Barrows, a research ecologist with the UC Riverside Center for Conservation Biology, said the volunteers are providing important help.

“We couldn’t do this without them,” Barrows said. “It’s important to have lots of eyes when we do these kinds of projects.”

As Barrows led the group across the patch of desert, the volunteers quietly searched for signs of movement on the ground and under the bushes.

“Lizard!” shouted Jane Hamilton, a volunteer from Toronto. She raised an arm so that the scientists could come identify it.

Barrows said it was a zebra-tailed lizard, and he copied it down in his notebook.

Michelle Murphy-Mariscal, another researcher from UC Riverside, said they had found five species of lizards in this plot so far. “That’s great,” she told the group.

Hamilton, a teacher, said she was thrilled to be contributing to science.

“We get really good training in the field before we start so that you feel confident that you’re able to make a contribution,” she said.

In another plot that morning, one group of volunteers helped document more than 40 species of plants, said James Heintz, a researcher with the Great Basin Institute.

“These guys are working super hard, and we’re getting a lot of work done,” Heintz said. “It’s going to paint a really, really clear picture of what’s going on.”

Barrows said that as the researchers return to plots over the coming years, they will be able to see how plants and animals respond to global warming.

“What we’re trying to do right now is create a baseline of animals and plants that will enable us to look in the future years to say, ‘These are changing, the numbers are either increasing or decreasing,'” Barrows said. “We want to be able to identify areas that are really important for protecting these species and make sure that the park is able to identify those as well and protect them.”

The Mojave Desert Land Trust and the Wildlands Conservancy, which protect some wilderness areas near the national park, are also participating in the study.

Barrows and his colleagues plan to eventually publish the results of their research.

Barrows said he has been noticing some changes in the desert lately. He has been seeing very few of two types of lizards — chuckwallas and desert horned lizards — in some of the flat, low-lying areas of the park where he used to see them regularly just a few years ago.

When he spotted one desert horned lizard, Barrows called to the others and picked up the spiky-skinned reptile while they crowded around taking photos.

While the group walked in formation among the creosote bushes, Hamilton suddenly exclaimed: “tortoise!”

The reptile sat motionless in the shade of a yucca.

Murphy-Mariscal was so pleased with the find that the she broke into a celebratory jig. She called it her “tortoise dance.”

Researchers seeking volunteers

Scientists with the UC Riverside Center for Conservation Biology are seeking volunteers to help with research in Joshua Tree National Park on Fridays during the month of April. Those who are interested can contact Cameron Barrows at cameron.barrows@ucr.edu.

 

Source: ‘Citizen scientists’ help study desert climate change

Sevengill Shark “Notorynchus cepedianus” by José María Pérez Nuñez CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Diver-citizen scientists help find out why there has been a recent increase in the number of Sevengill Sharks spotted in the San Diego area

The first thing the divers noticed upon reaching the bottom was that there were absolutely no fish—anywhere. The lighting, also being strange, lent everything a deserted, eerie feel. But, says diver Mike Bear, “We continued deeper into this spooky, yellowish-green ‘ghost forest’ with its odd, dearth of fish—failing to make the obvious connection in our minds: where had they all the fish gone and why? The previous week, this same area was overflowing with life. Sometimes the fish sense something you don’t.”

Bear and diving buddy Dave Hershman had just entered the water off Point La Jolla. Swimming eastward, separated by about 12 feet of water, quite suddenly a long dark shadow materialized between them, “moving at a good clip,” says Bear. It took a couple of seconds for him to register that this was a fast-moving shark. “By the time he had pulled slightly ahead of me, I saw the characteristic long tail of the Sevengill pass before my face, and from a couple of feet recognized the species.”

What exactly is the Sevengill shark? Filmmaker, diver and founder of the Sevengill citizen science counting project Barbara Lloyd says, “Well, here’s the boring response to that question—scientifically speaking it’s officially known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark, Notorynchus cepedianus, and it’s the only existing member of the genus Notorynchus in the family Hexanchidae!

This fairly large shark grows to about 11 feet, is speckled with gray or brownish spots, and has only seven gills on each side, which distinguishes it from the Bluntnose Sixgill shark. The Sevengill lives in tropical to temperate waters excepting for the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

With this post coinciding with Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, the more important question might be—have there been any attacks, since such a large predator inhabits these shallow near-shore waters? “Only three suspected attacks have been documented in the last fifty years,” says Lloyd, “with the most recent being in New Zealand in 2009.” They do get aggressive when feeding, mating, are provoked, and interestingly enough in aquariums. “Prior to that the Shark Attack File shows that there have only been five since the 17th Century.”

Lloyd and Bear began the Sevengill Shark ID Project in 2010, after hearing numerous reports of local divers encountering them, reports that had not previously surfaced. “I had been diving regularly in the San Diego area since 2000, averaging about 100 dives per year,” says Bear, “mainly in the area of La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Cove, Wreck Alley and Point Loma, as well as being actively involved in the San Diego diving community. I do not recall hearing any diver reports of encounters with Sevengill sharks much before 2007—and then suddenly we began hearing the first reports from local divers,” he notes.

The project website began as a simple spreadsheet which allowed local divers to log their encounters without photos. From there it developed into the site you see today, which uses photographs and a pattern recognition algorithm to ID individual sharks. The motivation was to answer the scientific question: why was there an apparent increase in encounters between divers and this species from 2007 onward?

Dr. John Hyde a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in San Diego wonders if the answer to that question might just be that it is a combination of more Sevengill sharks congregating in the area, and more divers in the water. “Overall we don’t have a good sense for changes in abundance of Sevengill sharks, but it is likely that they are increasing in number since the 1994 moratorium on nearshore (within three miles) gillnet fisheries in California.” The nearshore gillnet fishery had a significant effect on abundance of many fish species, especially sharks and rays, both as direct mortalities and indirectly by removal of prey items. Hyde adds, “This coupled with increasing numbers of recreational divers, cheaper and better underwater camera systems, and increased awareness of these sharks through social media has led to better documentation of their presence.” Though sevengills are fairly common these days, especially in bay and nearshore regions, there is still a lot of research to be done.

“We want to know why sevengills have been attracted to the La Jolla area over the past five years,” says Bear. “Is it the ocean conditions, changing water temperature, has the location just developed into the ideal nursery or pupping ground, or is it particularly mating-related? There may be an increase in prey, or it could be a combination of a number of these?”

The project has amassed a sizable database of still photographs and video, but they are still in the early stages of data collection and evaluation, and have not published any results yet. Barbara Lloyd has had some success using the pattern recognition algorithm to identify individual sharks.

For all, the most sublime Shark Week sensation would also be the most benign—to be able to dive with these magnificent predators, to be in their presence as they glide majestically by.

Are you a diver who lives in the San Diego area? Help the Sevengill Shark ID project answer their questions! Visit the project page on SciStarter to sign up and learn how to enter your sightings according to the specified protocols.

It’s Shark Week! And that means we’re lining up shark themed citizen science projects that you can participate in. Sign up for our newsletter to know which projects are being featured and watch this space for more blog posts!

Find more posts like Divers Attempt to Solve Mystery of Sevengill Shark Sightings on the Pacific Coast by Ian Vorster on the SciStarter Blog. Your source for citizen science and other science you can do.

Source: Divers Attempt to Solve Mystery of Sevengill Shark Sightings on the Pacific Coast